Saturday, March 8, 2008

silent flashing screens

It's Saturday night and the bar is packed and we're gradually getting shoved into a smaller and smaller cluster between a table and the hoards of people waiting to order a drink. When the conversation dies down, as it does from time to time, I glance around at people, look up at the old and strange and empty bottles lining the walls, but ultimately my eyes are always drawn back to a glowing TV set that's flashing above the hustling bartenders.

Now, the TV in this bar is tuned to one of the remotely educational channels, and the current program is on injured animals and emergency rescue workers. So while my brain is processing what Aaron and Evan are saying, along with what the brunette with her back turned to me to the left of Chris might look like, and how long the bathroom line might be, and how I need to respond to what was just said in the conversation, and what my beer tastes like, and the chill of the glass on my hands, somehow injured and bleeding cats and dogs are being thrown into the mix. Someone's hand is pressing on my shoulder, a voice is saying, "excuse me, can I get by," and my vision is captured by latex gloves and fur and scalpels.

I don't watch a lot of television. I don't own one, and when I'm staying where one is, I never really think to turn it on. I have my issues with it, but I'm not trying to take any stand or making any big statement. I just don't have much interest, and the thought hardly ever occurs to me.

I was in a restaurant on another recent night, having a pretty emotionally intensive conversation with a friend, when she commented on a TV blaring in the corner. She asked me if it had been on the whole time, and thinking about it I realized that I had just caught the entire silent second half of a basketball game without it breaking through to my consciousness.

And tonight, at another dark and crowded bar, a friend was in a conversation with someone they know well and I don't know at all, and while I was standing there fumbling with my phone, glancing around, I caught myself once again being hypnotized by a commercial for multi-vitamins all lit up between the liquor bottles and a stack of glasses.

There is something unsettling to me about TVs following us into the night, pouring always out into the room, pulling constantly at our sight while we try to pay no mind. I would like to think that our conversations alone can get us through the evening. But I could be wrong.