Sunday, September 24, 2017

it's all in the game

When I was a kid, nothing beat staying home from school. A day off scheduled on the school calendar was one thing, but an unscheduled day off due to illness — real or otherwise — was the best. All it would take, on those rare days when I would wake up and something in my head or gut didn't feel quite right, would be a little bit of convincing (and maybe a pouty lip), and my mom would relent. She'd fix me some hot tea and dry, butterless toast and deliver it to me while I was propped up on the den sofa — still pajamaed and draped with several blankets. Usually, I was only able to milk this set-up one or two days out of the school year. Any more than a single day risked a non-essential trip to Dr. Barnes, our burly family practitioner who would invariably jab me with a javelin-sized needle no matter what I was brought in for. So, I made myself satisfied with one day off every so often  — and, boy!, did I make the most of it.

My dad left the house for work long before I would wake up for school. My mom would assist in the before-school routine of getting me breakfast and picking out appropriate clothes. She had a little business of driving neighborhood kids to kindergarten in the decidedly unsafe cargo area of her rickety old station wagon. During the course of the day, she was in and out of the house based on her carefully coordinated schedule to accommodate both morning and afternoon sessions of pre-school. On sick days, while my mom was out, I would scroll though the seven channels that our TV picked up (4 VHF and 3 UHF), carefully choosing my entertainment for the day, making sure I looked like I wasn't enjoying myself too much during those times when my mom popped in to check on me. My choices were important and I stuck with them, because these were the days long before remote controls and changing channels required vacating my sofa sanctuary. I avoided soap operas and the news. (On one "sick day" in early June 1968, I remember clicking the TV dial past a report that Robert Kennedy was shot in a hotel the previous night. I was seven and wasn't quite sure who Robert Kennedy was.) I would settle on cartoons (if there were any available on weekday mornings), but my favorite was game shows.

While my contemporaries were stuck behind a school desk listening to Miss McGlynn ramble on about multiplication tables, I was joyfully munching on toast, lounging on the sofa and excitedly watching Monty Hall announce that Jay Stewart was bringing a box down to the trading floor on Let's Make a Deal. My favorite, though, was The Price is Right.

Meet the new boss...
No one hosted a game show better than tanned and handsome Bob Barker. The dark-haired, toothy-grinned Barker, fresh off his long-running stint on Truth or Consequences, endeared himself to contestants and brought an air of decorum and class to an otherwise frenetic atmosphere. Baker became the game show host by which all other game show hosts were measured. Barker, especially as the seasons progressed and he got older, exhibited a sardonic side at times, berating contesting for making obviously boneheaded choices or not following simple instructions. I loved watching bewildered contestants price a can of peas at "five dollars, Bob," only to have Barker roll his eyes, fold his arms across his chest and verbally lash out with a scolding usually reserved for a kid who just smashed a baseball through your living room window. Barker hosted The Price is Right for 35 seasons before retiring and handing the reigns of the show over to comedian Drew Carey. Carey had an understandably shaky start and rightly so. His hosting has been subjected to relentless scrutiny and comparisons to the venerable Barker. However, after ten years, Carey has settled in and has clearly become a fan favorite. Carey has obligingly carried on Barker's campaign to control the pet population, but his on-air patter is peppered with numerous side references that are unleashed for his own amusement. These comments fly over oblivious contestants' heads as they seem to widen Carey's already impish grin.

... same as the old boss.
My love of television is certainly no secret. I especially love watching shows that were popular during my youth, perhaps reminding me of those glorious "sick days." This past year, Mrs. Pincus and I made the jump to 21st century technology and signed on for the X1 entertainment system offered by Comcast, our local cable provider. With this system, I am able to record programs (up to six shows at once, like that need will ever arise) and watch them whenever I feel like it. With uncomplicated ease, I can set up those recordings hours, days or even weeks in advance and the programs are stored in my personal library until I decide to delete them. Eliminating the need for a prehistoric VCR and those bulky, brick-like VHS tapes, my recordings are housed "in the cloud" — where ever that is.

So, taking full advantage of this mind-blowing technology, I record The Price is Right everyday. After dinner, my wife and I curl up on the den sofa in front of our spectacular 43" LG flat screen smart TV and watch Drew Carey, in full realistic color, interact with a new generation of idiots who still don't know the price of a can of peas.

And it's wonderful.

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