Monday, August 18, 2014

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Winning At Life

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Norah, our five-year-old, turned on the TV, and it started making a wretched clicking sound. The same sound our dishwasher makes when a wooden spoon bangs against a plate.

Our TV was an old black tube from the late 90s. My stepbrother gave it to me before Mel and I got married, almost 10 years earlier. We’d hauled it from Utah, to Minnesota, and finally to Oregon. We’d watched hours of entertainment on that thing. When we moved from Minnesota, a friend who helped us move dropped it down some stairs, and it still worked. It was tried and true. It was like an old friend, maybe even a family member, who was a little outdated, but still beautiful in the way a classic car with a little faded paint and a some rust is beautiful.

When the TV started making the sound, Norah jumped. She was wearing a blue dress, her hair pulled back with barrettes. Her face was rigid. I don’t think she knew just what was happening.

Mel walked over, turned off the TV, and then turned it on again.

It still made the sound.

She tried it a few times, and then she said, “Clint. The TV is broken.”

I was watching all this unfold in the kitchen.

“No way,” I said. “Let me fix it.”

I struck the side of the TV with an open hand. Not hard enough to do any damage, but hard enough that it knew I meant business. Then I struck it again, just to make sure. I tuned it back on, and it still made the sound.

“We need a new TV,” Mel said.

I felt a pit in my gut. I was 31, and I’d never actually purchased a TV. This was a source of pride for me. In my whole life, I’d owned four TVs. Every time one of them broke, a friend or family member was upgrading and wanted to give me their old TV. And like the good friend I am, I always graciously accepted. When it came to TVs, it felt like I lived a charmed life. Like I’d been born into a communist wonderland where free TVs were a human right. They were not always top of the line products, but they were long lasting and free.

I know this sounds silly, but as a father and husband, it often feels like I just can’t win. If the kids are happy, my wife isn’t, or visa versa. If one car is running, the other is breaking. If I fall into extra money, I run into an extra bill. Sometimes it just feels like the world is always out of balance. When I thought about the fact that I’d never had to buy a TV, it felt like I was winning at life.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” I said. “It’s just a strange sound. Try turning up the volume. That should drown it out.”

Mel was in yoga pants and a blue t-shirt. Her short brown hair was undone. She placed her right hand on her slender hip and gave me the, What the hell are you talking about, look that she delivers at least once a week.

“No,” she said. “We can afford a new TV.”

“It’s not about affording a new TV,” I said. “It’s about life. It’s about keeping the world in balance. It’s about the fact that I’ve gone this long without buying a TV, and I take pride in that. Do you want me to have less pride in myself? Is that what you want?”

Mel tilted her head back and said, “Why are you so complicated?”

“It’s not that complicated. I’ll just find another free TV. They are all over the place. People are always giving them away.”

Mel stopped me. She mentioned how when I got done with college, it was her dream to have a few nice things. Free TVs didn’t fall into that equation.

“I’m a nice thing,” I said.

She didn’t argue with that statement, but she also didn’t appear to agree with it either. She let out a breath.

“You know what, we don’t really need a TV,” I said. I went on, reminding her that we didn’t have cable or an antenna. We only used the TV for Netflix and movies. “We’re not TV people. It’s not a necessity. What we should invest in is a one of those puppet theaters. We could write scripts as a family and act out little plays for when people come over. It would help us bond as a family, give us the opportunity to make some art…”

As I rambled on, Mel opened the laptop on the table, and when I asked her what she was doing, she said, “Shopping for a new TV.”

I told her to hold on and at least let me try and find a free one. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” I said. “We might end up with something amazing.” I raised my eyebrows, and she reluctantly agreed.

I put out a call on Facebook, “And my TV broke. Anyone have one they want to get rid of? I'm not a picky man. It just needs to work, and have a 30 inch screen or less so it will fit in my entertainment center.”
My assumption was that, like in the past, I’d have this problem solved in no time. But I was wrong.

A few people said they had TVs, but they were in different states. But mostly I got comments like, “Weren’t you just on TV? You should be able to afford another.” And “People still own TVs smaller than 30 inches? Lol. I love you brother.”

Suddenly I felt cheap and out of date. I tried pushing the puppet theater idea one more time, but it didn’t fly. I gave in, and together, Mel and I purchased our first TV, a small flat screen, from Amazon. I have to assume that many couples would see this as a victory. This really was the first time in our marriage that we could afford a TV and not feel guilty about it.  But I saw it as the end of a winning streak. It felt like I’d given up some grand thing that was difficult to define, and yet still important to my self-value.

The day after our new TV arrived, I placed our old tube TV in the back of my pickup. I drove to a red dumpster near my work. Surprisingly, there, along the side of the dumpster were two other tube TV’s of nearly the same size and era. I placed the TV next to them, and it felt like I was putting an old steed out to pasture. I wanted to say goodbye, perhaps have a moment of silence, but I was illegally dumping this thing, so I said a few words in my head, and then drove off.

Later that week, we ate dinner in the living room, and had a family movie night with our new TV.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter