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PRIVATE LIVES

Something was missing. I had a job, a girlfriend, a fun-filled social life. I swam and played basketball to my heart's content. A simple man with simple needs, I thought had it all.

Still, the emptiness. The longing. The search for fulfillment.

Then, magically, it happened.

I had placed no order. No free preview was in progress. Nevertheless, it penetrated my television and decided to stay. Cable.

Now, my course is set. Every evening I lie down on my couch with my clicker and chips, and by morning I am complete. Cable teaches me, inspires me, fulfills me. Cable leads and I follow.

Before Cable, I did not know my Beavis from my Butt-head.

I did not know Nov. 12 was Day 295 of "The White House in Crisis." But Cable's The Big Show assures me it is so. On The Big Show, every night is "White House in Crisis" night. Focused Cable.

Before Cable, I knew only oily Geraldo. But Cable hosed him off and gave him a starring vehicle, Rivera Live, where he investigates the president and the president's tormentors, exposing them to the cold light of day. Each night Geraldo turns to Cable's Woodward and Bernstein _ Chip Reid and David Gregory _ who dish the latest dirt "live from the White House lawn," where Deep Oak lurks in the darkness. Probing Cable.

Before Cable, I did not have public-affairs choices beyond Tweedledum (McLaughlin and Mor-tahn) and Tweedledee (Sam and Cokie). But now I have Hardball's Christopher Matthews, hurling heat and shouting down guests. I have right-wingers Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak on the right and moderates Mark Shields and Al Hunt on the left. I have DeeDee Myers and Laura Ingraham, Lanny Davis and Ben Ginsberg. All have opinions on "The White House in Crisis," and all deliver around the clock. Omnipresent Cable.

I had Charles Grodin. But he squandered precious minutes yapping about poor people rotting in prison for decades for minor, non-violent drug offenses, surely a non-story when the White House is in crisis. Cable pulled his plug, but when he promised to do better, Cable granted a reprieve. Forgiving Cable.

Before Cable, I did not know that controversy raged on the PGA tour. I answer the call of the Golf Channel, voting via 1-900 against male professionals and their caddies wearing shorts. Shorts today, tank tops tomorrow. Beware the slippery slope. Cautious Cable.

Before Cable I had never learned to paint furniture, apply makeup to dinosaurs, decorate rocks in a garden and make millions selling real estate. I master all in a single sitting. Enriching Cable.

Before Cable, I had never taken a psychedelic trip. Late at night I cut the lights and visit the land of scrambled Premium Cable, where the dialogue is intact and the tangled picture cascades in waves of red, green and gold. I dig Cable, therefore I am. Groovy Cable.

Yes, Cable feeds my head. But Cable stimulates other senses as well.

I did not know the hardships the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders endured in making their 1996 Swimsuit Calendar. Cable documentarians take me there. I curse the cold front that sends shivers down the rookies' spines; I bristle at the uncooperative Caribbean locals; I shoo away the flies that interrupt most every shot. Yet the women persevere. Inspirational Cable.

I dreamed long ago of a faraway "Fitness Beach," where suntanned beauties in teeny bikinis grapevined to an aerobic beat. Cable brings them to life. Five mornings a week they raise my pulse; five mornings a week they cool me down. Blood-pumping Cable.

I heard that Playboy pinup and Guess? jeans girl Anna Nicole Smith had let herself go, but a fleshy Cable expose shows just how far she fell _ and how high she has bounced since sobering up. Uplifting Cable.

I knew that women shot pool, but I had never witnessed one manipulate the cue ball as if it were some sorry excuse for a man. I am mesmerized by Cable's belle of the billiard hall. "Game to Jeannette Lee," the announcer intones. A botched bank-shot opens the door, and a cool, blue-eyed Brit with a silky stroke slams it shut and leaves Lee for dead. "Game and match to Alison Fisher." Killer Cable.

The shoot-out ends too soon. I need more. I need All-Nine-Ball, All-Women, All the Time. Even more, I need rest. Exhausting Cable.

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray my channels I may keep.

If they depart before I wake,

You know just where to drive the stake.

Amen.

Dennis Hans is a freelance writer and occasional adjunct professor of mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. Private Lives is edited by Mary Jane Park.

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