Turn Off, Tune In, Drink Up

By Black Monday
November 2002

Mr. Monday and I were at a restaurant the other night. It was one of those casual restaurants where you expect some clatter and chatting. It was a busy night and our table was surrounded by other people.

All that being said, I had a very hard time not being rude. Its rude to stare but sometimes your eyes have nowhere else to go. Directly behind Mr. Monday, directly in my line of vision were 1) a couple having an argument 2) a large family group with a teenage boy in a TOOL shirt drumming the table John Bonham style with his chopsticks and 3) a hippie family who let their 10 year old (re: old enough to know better) climb OVER AND UPSIDE DOWN on the railing to the steps until he hit his head and started bawling. It's rude to stare. It's rude to ignore your date. But it's impossible not to look.

Much like the devil hippie child, a television in a bar gets me every time. I don't really watch TV at home (that's not a political statement: our set only gets two channels) and I certainly don't go out to drink and watch The New Hollywood Squares but, if its in my line of vision, my eyes flutter like moths into the bright, flaming vortex.

I can't say I've ever been in a bar that does not have a TV. I've been in bars that don't have jukeboxes, or napkins, or toilet paper in the women's room-hell, I've even been in bars that don't have a women's room- but a TV seems to be mandated in the liquor license. What keeps me up at night is the possibility that the TV epidemic is not the disease itself but a particularly itchy rash, symptomatic of a more pervasive disorder. Email is already killing letter writing-my suspicion is that TVs in bars are killing conversation.

"Going out for a Drink" is shorthand for "Spending Time Together," which in turn is shorthand for "Spending time across a table talking to someone I don't get to see 1) on a daily basis or 2) in a non-work, extracurricular situation." The drink is a bonus, an excuse to linger, an acknowledgement of celebration of the moment. The drink could also be an un-inhibitor to take the conversation to another level of whatever. Either way, the drink is a prop, necessary to the scene but secondary to the real mission of such an evening.

Television is designed to demand your attention. The flashing lights, bright colors, and the co-opting of music from your adolescence for car commercials are all designed to stop conversation. One moment you're telling a great joke or analyzing Antonin Artaud or talking dirty to your date and the next minute you are a slack-jawed, unblinking yokel even (and this is my point) if you do not care about TV!

California can have non-smoking bars--lets have non-TV bars. Secondhand smoke is less corrosive than secondhand mediocrity. Be aware of the threat of the bar TV and avoid it accordingly. You can't make it go away but you can will it out of your radius. Concentrate on your date. Don't comment on the commercials. And be sure to bring lots of singles to stuff the jukebox. You can't kill the damn thing but at least you can drown it out.