Braving a Life Without Television

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Television wakes me up, keeps me company while I eat and tucks me in at night, and, thanks to Cinemax, I sometimes take it as a lover. The average American adult leads the world in television viewing, clocking four hours a day. While you're reading your precious newsmagazine, I'm doing my patriotic duty making sure the second-place Greeks don't pass us.

This week is TV-Turnoff Week, which was created by a nonprofit group called the TV-Turnoff Network — a group that in its eighth year, being generous, is only 1/52 toward its goal. I felt it my responsibility as a journalist to play Russian space monkey for you, and test drive a TV-less week seven days before the real thing starts on April 22. To get the rules straight, I called the TV-Turnoff Network, where spokesman Frank Vespe nixed renting movies, playing videogames and taping this week's shows for later viewing. Reading TV Guide, however, was O.K. "You have to ask yourself, 'Am I trying to get around the week or embrace the point of the week?' This is supposed to be fun," Frank said. When I asked him to expound on this fun idea, Frank said lots of people use the time to exercise or read. I told him to try again on the fun thing. He suggested, "Learn an instrument or write a book." People who don't watch TV are either freakishly ambitious or they do so many mind-altering drugs to soothe their bored brains that they no longer have any idea how long a week actually is. I gave him one more shot at the fun question. "It should be a fun time to get back to the simpler pleasures in life that we ignore but are more basic pleasures," he said. I finally understood that Frank was talking about sex.

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SATURDAY, DAY 1: I have already listened to every disk I own, including both Sun Ra records. Eventually it gets so bad that I go to a play. It's like watching a TV show from one camera angle. At 10 p.m. I stretch out with a book. By page 13, I am face down in my pillow, drooling, the book still in my extended hand. I conclude that reading uses such a huge part of the brain that it exhausts me immediately. Either that or it's boring as hell.

SUNDAY, DAY 2: I surf the Web while my new, lovely wife Cassandra watches Six Feet Under. I put on headphones, but I can still hear her laughing. Not the light chuckle I got out of her during dinner, but the deep, explosive laugh that only TV can bring. And this is a show about a funeral home.

MONDAY, DAY 3: At 2 a.m., I awaken to Sun Ra-esque noises and lights so colorful and blinding that I see them through my closed lids. I hear the words Zorak and Moltar and realize that my new, lovely wife Cassandra is watching Space Ghost. I tell Frank the next day. "We often hear complaints from wives that their husbands are not helping," he says. "It's an interesting twist that your wife is undermining you. Welcome to married life."

TUESDAY, DAY 4: Desperate, I investigate the TV-Turnoff Network's suggested coping techniques. One of them is to "learn something new about your grandparents." I call Mama Ann and tell her about my project and how TV-Turnoff Week asked people not to watch television for the week. "That's not nice," she said. When I pressed her for info, she said, "I play canasta. What else? Nothing much. At my age, you want me to find something exciting?" No, but I wasn't letting her go. Finally, eager to get me off the phone, she confessed that she's going to stop dyeing her hair. "Your father is going gray, and his mother should be a blonde?" she said. This was the stuff. It was like Fort Lauderdale sweeps week.

WEDNESDAY, DAY 5: Normally there are few things more boring than listening to someone describe what happened on a television show. But today, the day after The Osbournes, I sit in front of my friend Wendy like she's Homer with a lute.

THURSDAY, DAY 6: The newspaper, which I don't usually read, is incredibly gripping. I laugh out loud at a rip-roaring tale about chandeliers in the New York Times' House & Home section and nearly cry over one about multi-genitaled frogs.

FRIDAY, DAY 7: The fever has broken. I awaken, for the first time, without instinctively looking at the silenced television. This is only partly because nothing decent airs on Fridays. At midnight I don't even rush to grab the remote. Not until 12:20 a.m. do I turn on the set. The colors are blinding, the fast cuts almost nauseating. I tune into E!'s Wild on the Adriatic, and everything seems nonsensical; I can't distinguish pixilated breasts from pixilated buttocks. I am a caveman.

After a week, I'm not sure what the TV-Turnoff people are trying to prove. It's not like reading is so great. The Top 10 shows are better written than the best-selling books. Fighting the most popular storytelling medium is not only a losing battle and horribly snobbish but unsocial too. The Osbournes and Survivor bring us together and define us as a culture. Hey, better that than Nora Roberts.