Tag Archives: tv

Central Park

Among the annoyances of having to work for a living (aside from having to work for a living) is the getting to where your workplace is – and, assuming that, as in most American locales, short-sighted politicians with lobbyist bucks in their PACs have helped to eviscerate your town’s public transportation, then the getting requires driving. And driving requires a place to park. And, if you do not work in the ‘burbs or on the prairie – where fine arable soil now lies, out of sight and out of mind, beneath flat, parched and blacktopped acres painted with corralling lines and illuminated by buzzing light poles, offering free parking within stroll distance to your office/factory/shop/cell – then you pay to stow your vehicle on a razed-building footprint that’s now a lot, or in a multi-story garage building within some city’s limits.


For the past seven years, I’ve been doing just that – committing my car to minimum-security lockup for eight hours a day while I do somewhat the same for myself. Two parking garages have been involved, and to me they seemed, though structurally different in subtle but noticeable ways, very much the same in personality and affect: floor after oil-stained and grimy floor, dark (even in day), barren (even when parked solid), echoey down its low-ceilinged/vaulted-concrete claustrophobia-inducing corridors illuminated with dim and flickering and green/yellowish rods and protuberances that give every inch the quality of the lighting employed in snuff films, and all tied together with a spiral bow of ramps, and home to the funkiest stairwells and slowest elevators since Otis installed his first emergency-alarm button.

Grim eyesores of our car culture, ugly over-charging profit machines of politically connected and corrupting developers – this is what I have thought of these ubiquitous and obtrusive storage boxes. Personality-less. Places without placeness, and certainly without art.

But, lately, for no good reason, I find myself having a change of heart.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking at these lurid architectural layer cakes as some sort of black-sheep member of the Guggenheim Museum family – a twisty path leading to landings on which are not paintings but Priuses – but I have come to realize that these garages are not devoid of placeness, as I thought. In fact, quite the opposite. Especially if American mass media is any gauge, these undistinguished buildings are central to a kind of basic American placeness. In fact, they are redolent of placeness.


It is uncountable how many times in movies that parking garages – whether over- or underground – have been used as the arena for screeching car chases (those echoes, those hairpin turns, those bowling-alley-like high-speed head-on approaches) or foot chases, or muggings, or shootings – way out of proportion to their actual danger or the role they seem to play in our waking lives. Cars race into them, out of them, around and through them; cars with secreted bombs blow up in them, and cars explode out of them, sailing through the air to the ground or water or whatever lies below – an exhilarating propelled dive from imprisonment to freedom without having to surrender the time card and pay the inflated fee to the under-interested drone in the booth.


Do we hate and fear these places so much that we impose our nightmares on them? Or are we drawn to them because they are the most closed of public spaces, and anything can happen in them – placeness tofu, bland in and of itself but taking its piquancy and identity from added spices? Structural Zeligs that blend in but are present at key events? It was in a parking garage that Deep Throat met with Bob Woodward. It was in a parking garage that Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer were lost in a Pirandellian episode that was among the most existential in television history. Deborah Sorenson, of the National Building Museum, suggests  that, depending on the structure, they are either cliff or cave, and she lists dozens of films and series that have used parking garages as the focus of plot points.


Maybe they had no placeness until the movies gave it to them. But they have it now. Maybe 20 bucks for an all-day piece of this uber-American mass-media theme park is not a bad admission price … and you get to park your car, too.

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My Mother the TV Set

Knowing that it is a strange comparative, between a mother and a television set, there are parallels that cannot go unnoticed. My mother was a modern woman, modern for her thinking more often than her actions, however always open to new ideas and even technologies. She balanced on a beam somewhere in a limbo of mid-generations, teetering between the gravitational pull of her encouraging offspring and her pooh-poohing spouse, constantly in danger of giving too much weight to one or the other. Unlike so many of her peers, she found meaningful uses for vcrs, cordless phones, computers, and larger and larger tv screens – adopting some of these items before her own children did.

One of these modern conveniences appeared soon after my father’s death: a 1993, large-screen (41”), rear-projection television, Sony model KP-41EXR96. In her mind this was the best investment she ever made, and she knew full well that my father would never have allowed such an extravagance. One might argue that it was a necessity of sorts because her eyesight had worsened with age, but she loved movies, and the idea of watching them at home on what was then the largest piece of real estate available to the home-viewer was just the ticket, as well as the price of admission.

Some of us worried that it was an addiction, in a sense. She positioned chairs in front of it, then later beds – her TV room started to resemble an opium den. Any visitors would be lured to the big screen, first, as a kind of demonstration of its beauty, then to watch with her (again) the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. It is incalculable how many times she viewed that movie; alone, with others, maybe again in her dreams. If there had been other cult followers with her, they would have recited the dialogue in unison as a mantra. That TV delivered to her the romantic illusion that she so craved, over and over, and in nearly life-size scale. Not far behind, both of her children, individually, purchased their own rear-projection big screens. To one of us, she would claim that the other one’s selection never lived up to her own; in a kind of Goldilocks moment, she would compare the size or clarity, and the others would fail in every measure. She loved her set.

After her debilitating stroke, life-changing therapy and relocation, I think that one of her major concerns was reuniting with her TV. Along with other belongings, we moved its then eight-year-old hulking carcass nearly six hundred miles, placing it as her hearth in her new smaller living room, and building the room around it. We offered to replace it with a newer, lighter and even bigger set, but she was a one-set woman. In some way the set must have represented many things: a link with her more normal past self; a lingering thumbed-nose to my father; a retained sense of having found the right one – the superior-to-all-others TV, still, at eight years old; and a comfortable and friendly face in her new environment.

The TV set outlived her, and we were faced with what to do with it. At one point, it developed a high-pitched buzz, but otherwise it worked. We had it fixed and took it to our home, along with other belongings of hers – after all, she loved it so. It wasn’t so much that we wanted it as that we felt we had to keep her memory alive with it, it had been such a cherished object. It weighed a ton, and it was so large that most of our rooms couldn’t accommodate it, but it ended up in our bedroom – and it gives one pause to think that either it had developed a mind of its own or she had willed it to be so.

It has been eight years since her death and, now, in the past several months, there are death rattles in the set. First, there was a strange color separation, giving me acid flashbacks, in which every image had an aura – every person, every chair, every single thing in the picture oddly illuminated in tripartite rainbow array. I continued to watch it, learning how to read it, refracted. I think it was challenging me in some way. It made me think of my mother’s stroke and how her “set” was having the same misfiring of its own wiring, sending the wrong signals. And just as suddenly as that affectation appeared, it disappeared, some sort of self-healing of its internal parts. The high-pitched buzz returned, then left as well. Was my mom trying to communicate to me through this contraption?

About the time when we said, well, it’s finally over and we will find a place to recycle it, the picture improved – possibly to a clarity it never before had attained. Why would we consider pulling the plug? But now, as the thing heats up, there is a new kind of light show in which the screen goes black and three wavy lines, red, blue, green, snake around the empty picture field. It reminds us of an EKG for an alien species, and we are waiting for it to flatline. Sometimes during these episodes, almost like seizures, the TV set turns itself off. We wait a few minutes and turn it back on and it has a good picture. Its remote control no longer controls the power in either direction but it still has a working volume and mute. My mom would be tickled about that, since she used both with a vengeance.

So we wait and hope, in a way as with my mother. We can’t end the relationship, so we wait for it to happen naturally. Who knows: Maybe my mom’s spirit is somewhere in that TV set. Maybe she is controlling the volume and picture. I hope so.


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