March 12, 2021
A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen
I am informed my daily average screen time — the time my computer is linked with the Internet — is nine hours, three minutes.
I close the box.
I avoided exposure to Denver television news broadcasts for nearly nine months, beginning last July.
The Denver news shows caused me great discomfort, provoked frequent fits of rage. The ongoing quarantine was problem enough; I’m old and delicate, increasingly dysfunctional, and I couldn’t bear additional stress. So, no Denver TV.
Kathy enjoys viewing the Denver broadcasts — thin video tethers binding her to the hometown she left more than three decades ago.
HER: “C’mon, Karl, don’t be a buttwad, hand over the remote! I’ve had it with your bullshit, and I want to watch the Denver news. I really miss that weather gal with the child-bearing hips who wears the gaudy necklaces and paints her fingernails different colors. She’s excited every time a high pressure system centers over the Four Corners — over us, you know? She seems a bit vacant, but her bubbly personality balances your cynicism, and I need that. As often as possible.
“And, the news. I miss the news stories where they report from a location. The stories remind me of places I used to go; they film next to streets I motored when I drove a city bus, and in parts of town where I had to chuck bricks at other kids to get safely home from elementary school, stuff like that.”
ME: “No, I can’t do it. I get anxious, and I experience leg cramps and acid reflux when I watch the Denver news. Let’s watch the Netflix series about Hitler, instead. The demented, evil goof makes nothing but bad decisions, and it all goes back to Dietrich Eckhart. That nitwit Dietrich gets himself worked up over the Treaty of Versailles and Peer Gynt, sets the fucking twisted corporal rolling, and it’s ugliness and destruction from there on. Adolph’s a clear study of what happens when you load up on amphetamines and have only one testicle. You’ve got a brutal demagogue with a head full of muddy and nasty thoughts, he’s trashed on Pervitin and he’s a semi-eunuch. For god’s sake, Kathy, there’s no way a person can juggle that many balls, if you’ll pardon the pun. Exterminating millions of innocent people, trampling nations underfoot, finding reasons not to marry your girlfriend, wearing lederhosen, listening to Wagner, looking at maps and devising unworkable battle plans, petting large dogs — it’s too much, a lesson for all of us. Thank god Trump stuck to fast food and ten or more cans of Diet Coke per day, or who knows what might have happened.”
HER: “You’re insane, and you drink too much vodka, so you’re insane and drunk. Give me that remote, now! I want to watch the news. It’s been months. Denver news reminds me of all the people in my family who aren’t with me anymore. Those memories warm my heart, and when I don’t…” (She begins to sniffle and snorf.)
I succumb, then struggle to find a connection between loved and lost relatives and a report of a twelve vehicle pileup on I-70. All I can figure is that the crash happens near the dog food factory, one of the three structures that border and define Kathy’s childhood neighborhood, the other two being the slaughter houses/stockyards and the serum plant.
Cooperative guy that I am, I forgo the monstrous fuhrer and agree to watch 10 p.m. Denver newscasts on ten successive weeknights, to determine if the situation remains odious.
Skip ahead to my findings: More odious than before.
Skip back to my method: I watch the two highest rated broadcasts, tune to one station each night at 10 p.m. for five nights running, take notes, switch to the second station on the next five weeknights, take notes, then perform my analysis of the accumulated data.
Skip ahead: I complete my experiment, suffer a profound loss of self worth and, drained of the will to live, I spend most of five days and nights in bed.
You are correct if you notice that the number five plays a significant role in this narrative.
I’m fond of the number five. It is my second favorite of the first ten natural numbers, my favorite being three.
As a youthful ADHD/OCD trainee, once my legs were long enough, I took flights of stairs three stairs at a time (not an easy feat for a fat kid) and took three steps per sidewalk square when forced to walk to school, to Cub Scout meetings, or to the corner store. Sips of water, juice, or soda? Three, no exceptions. Clear the throat, blow the nose, bites of each food item on the plate before moving on to the next item, squares of toilet paper used to wipe my ass? Three. Number of strokes per three squares of paper? Three. You get the picture.
My least favorite of the first ten natural numbers is four. I’ve read that many people of Chinese origin share my aversion, considering four to be an unlucky number and one to be avoided. I believe that any number divisible by four is poisoned by association. I’m sure there are people in China (likely a sizable mob of them) who agree with me.
So: most of five days and nights in bed.
I gain five pounds during that time by sticking to a vodka and mac and cheese diet. I leave my bed only to tend to bathroom business (not a swift or pleasant process, what with all the mac and cheese), to mix drinks, and to prepare blends of pasta and dairy products in the kitchen. When I am awake, I spend my time in bed re-reading all of Charles Bukowski’s fiction (greatly overrated), the collected poems of Wallace Stevens, the collected poems of Emily Dickinson and two collections of essays by Martin Amis, and watching You Tube videos of Benny Hinn performing miraculous healings of spasming, feckless rubes in Texas and Tennessee. I consider contacting Benny to ask whether or not he can deal with anxiety and constipation at a distance. I decide that psyllium husk slurries and several Cheeba Chews per day offer less offensive solutions to my problems. I am correct.
Now, I am ready to discuss my TV local news experience.
An overview: the quality of news coverage nine months ago was at best miserable, and it has declined in quality since.
A majority of the Denver newscasters are but marginally acquainted with the English language. Tense agreement gives many of them trouble, any but the simplest sentences are a challenge for most.
Use of the word “impact” as a verb has increased by a factor of ten since I last endured Denver news babble. According to the minor market word salad chefs, when one gives a gift to someone, they have “gifted” that object or “gifted” that person with the object.
The illness spreads to other pages of the dictionary.
According to one of the on-air geeks, “the man disappeared his girlfriend and her remains are unfounded today.”
Several on-air meteorologists cannot pronounce the words “thunderstorm” (“thunnerstorm”) and “potentially” (“puhtenshly”). Kathy’s fave — the woman with the hips, grotesque baubles, and multicolored nails — is the worst of the lot. But, in her defense, she is bubbly.
What do I find that is new since I gave up on Denver broadcasts eight months ago?
Each channel’s pack of news dorks is now a “team,” and each team has a name.
At one channel the team name is “The Storytellers,” at the other it is “The Problem Solvers.”
During my five exposures to The Storytellers, I am not provided with much of a story; in my work week with The Problem Solvers, no problem is solved.
Each station’s team has a gimmick to pimp the ride. In the case of The Storytellers it is a locally produced theme song played as call letters scroll across the screen and the broadcast begins. At the end of the ditty, there is a voice-over featuring a chorus of loud, deep male voices: “We bring the story to you. We’re The Storytellers.” No story follows the song and announcement.
In the case of The Problem Solvers, the program is preceded by a graphic featuring the station logo, bright enough to burn a retina, and by a chorus of loud, deep male voices growling the motto: “We’re on it!”
Each news team includes an adventurous male meteorologist who takes to the field to report on road conditions during “weather events.” These daring characters drive oversize 4-WD vehicles that bristle with satellite dishes and antennae. Each vehicle has a name. In one case it is “Storm Tracker One,” in the other it is “The Weather Beast.” Both guys sport snazzy Millennial beards which attract snow and ice whenever they report from a blizzard. Every once in a while, one of them spots an anvil cloud and a tornado northeast of the metro area.
The Storytellers win the day in the newsroom, wretched-wise, in that one of the reporters is referred to as “Our politics guy.” This smug simp wears a baby blue sport jacket, large, blue rimmed eyeglasses and … wait, wait, here it comes … he sports a tie tack shaped like a pair of eyeglasses! Wow, is that clever, or what?
A sincerely expressed station promo puts The Storytellers dead center in the winner’s circle. It features cameos by team members who inform viewers that, “truth tellers on the news team are champions of the truth,” and that the news team is dedicated to bring viewers “just the real truth.” The word “truth” is delivered eleven times during the 20-second promo, no doubt a great comfort to any viewer who has never wrestled with the concept.
If it weren’t for the fact that two female weather reporters (one at each station) possess formidable asses and snazzy hair styles, I would shoot myself. One of them looks like a porn star dressed like a Pilgrim for Halloween. I like her. A lot.
Can it get any worse?
Sure it can.
I can make it a whole lot worse, if given the opportunity.
I come up with my dream station.
It’s 10 p.m.
You tune to the Channel 184 news, “Denver’s Info Commode.”
The news team’s name: “The Cleanup Crew.”
One of two lead-ins announces the program: a sunlit city skyline with a mountain vista in the distance appears on the screen, and a chorus of loud, deep male voices delivers either, “You make the deposits, we do the cleanup…twenty-four hours a day,” or “All the news that’s fit to flush … all the time!”
Each segment during the broadcast is introduced when one of two automatons manning “Info Commode Control Center” says “It’s time to wipe up this mess.” The end of each segment and the impending commercial break is signaled with the sound of a toilet flushing.
The members of the news team speak in fragments, mirroring the fact local news channel execs want the viewing public to relate to the team, and that the execs regard viewers as idiots. They are probably right. As we kids used to say as we tussled on the school playground: “It takes one to know one.”
The anchor dork at the Commode Control Center desk speaks.
“Jimmy our guy. Find capitol. Talk seentor.”
The Cleanup Crew politics expert sports a tie tack that looks like a teensy roll of toilet paper.
Our female field reporter, she of the wind-ruffled hair, covers “breaking news.” Invariably, it takes her at least five seconds to realize she is on camera as she waits a few yards from an overturned, burning mini van. During the five seconds of dead air, she appears profoundly confused, and picks her nose. She eats what she finds, then she speaks.
“Shoot man, police wonder, no suspect. Van fire.”
Our male field reporter, he of the wind-ruffled hair, covers “breaking news.” We find him looking dazed as he stands in front of an apartment building, its entry festooned with yellow crime scene tape.
“Bad. Shoot man, police wonder, no suspect. Mayor talk, crime up … here. Pit bull.”
The team sportscasters are two young males with silly haircuts, and one young woman who looks like a young male with a silly haircut. The guys appear on air shirtless, the female sportscaster wears her college softball jersey. They say things like, “Hey, how’s it going? Whaazup?Football? Win, good. Lose, bad. Hey, sports! Plenty. Wait … next year.”
One of the two female meteorologists at the Info Commode works on a set behind the building. The set is adjacent to the doors of a fire station, and sirens and loud engines interrupt many of her segments. She wears an olive drab army surplus poncho and a pair of muddy ditch boots. Her hair is unwashed and tangled, and she appears to have slept poorly the night before, if at all. She says things like, “Ooh … too cold. Tomorrow. Weather. Me like puppies. Sirens … hurt.” The other dresses in a classic nurse’s outfit, wears white corrective shoes, and yells things like “Clouds, up sky, raindrops big” while gesturing wildly at a blank green screen behind her. Each weather segment ends with a poorly focused photo of a sunset or a rainbow submitted by a viewer. The weathercasters deem each photo “a work of art.” If the photo is of a rainbow, the nurse begins to weep as the segment ends, the toilet flushes, and an ad for a mattress sale begins.
The Commode’s outdoor weather hunk drives a black Hummer with tinted windows and large gold lightning bolts emblazoned on its side panels. The vehicle is named “Atmosphere Rammer, Cloud Probe 7.” As the guy stands next to an empty highway during a blizzard, he says, “Slippery, fall down. Crash. Bad. Cold.” There are icicles hanging from his Millennial beard and frozen globs of snot are stuck to his mustache.
The in-studio news desk personalities are given Zoloft a half hour before broadcasts, the weather gals snort a few lines of coke before the red light goes on to ensure perkiness. Field personnel are required to eat tabs of adderall like they’re M&Ms.
Now that I flesh out my idea of the dream minor market news broadcast, it’s clear it would be more entertaining than the two productions I endure for Kathy’s benefit.
Two productions I will not revisit any time soon.
Kathy can continue to view the disasters, and sniffle any time there’s a report of a drive-by shooting in her old neighborhood. I’ll retreat to my office and go online.
I’ll stick to The Guardian. The food section.
Grace Dent and Jay Rayner are my favorite “team,” trusted sources for accurate information. Neither wears a Pilgrim outfit, although Grace could make it work to her benefit.
Did you know it’s possible to prepare a perfect boeuf en croute in the average home kitchen, in less than three hours time?
Hasselback potatoes? No es problemo.
Heston Blumenthal and Fergus Henderson wear eyeglasses.
Now, that’s news.