Buttons, levers and cranks, oh my!

From his bed in the old family farmhouse on the eastern shore of the Hudson River, my great, great, grandfather (G3) rose before dawn each morning to tend his fields and orchards and care for his livestock. His was honest work, sweat-of-the-brow work, muscle and sinew work, work that muddied the boots and tore the pants and blistered the hands, work unaided by so much as an extension cord, work that kinked the lower back such that sitting by the glow of the fireplace fiercely rubbing liniment was what happened on Monday nights, instead of football on the big flat screen.

When my G3 worked, it meant swinging a pickaxe or dragging a grain sack or yanking on a rope — if he wanted to do anything, he had to actually expend energy. In contrast, although I too am an early riser (and even live on what used to be an old farm), I spend my time avoiding expending myself. When G3 worked, he reached down with one big paw and hefted something — I can’t honestly remember the last time I hefted anything (on purpose).

All I seem to do is push buttons and things. Here, I’ll show you.

My home office: first computer (102 buttons), second computer (108 buttons), third computer (90 buttons), phone (22 buttons), printer (4 buttons) and chair (1 lever).

My village office: 236 buttons on two computers, a scanner, and the phone, plus one crank on the window and a lever on the chair.

Kitchen: coffee maker (2 buttons), stove (28 buttons, 3 knobs, 10 switches), radio (11 buttons), microwave (21 buttons) and toaster (6 buttons).

Laundry room: washer (11 buttons) and dryer (1 button and a dial).

First car: (33 buttons, 2 levers, 1 wheel, and a knob); second car: (38 buttons 2 levers, 1 wheel, and 2 knobs).

So, in order to work, eat, communicate with the outside world, keep my clothes clean, and go anywhere, all I need is 713 buttons, 10 switches, 6 levers, 6 knobs, 2 wheels, one dial, and a crank. Now, I can justify all of these, really. They are all happy things that make my life easier and (in some ways) more productive. I harbor no bitterness toward any of them, cast no aspersions, spew no vitriol.

But now, on to the TV and its wretched spawn, the remote control. First of all, we don’t have one remote control for the TV, we have four (just like the rest of you), and we need all four to do everything (or anything). One will turn the TV on and off and switch us from regular programming to the DVD, but won’t do anything else (except mute of course — they’ll all to that). The second operates the digital box so we can switch channels and it controls the volume (at least one of the others will also do this, but I can’t remember which one). The third operates the DVD player, but precious little else. The fourth (the little white one)…well, I’m not sure what it does exactly, but we need it to make one or two of the others work properly. Combined, they have 104 buttons — just so I can watch Wheel of Fortune! (Pause for a moment while I wipe vitriolic spittle off the computer screen.)

And, of course, at any given time at least half of the TV remotes are missing (under a cushion, in the bathroom, absentmindedly put in the freezer). In fact (and I’m not making this up), as I was writing this, my wife came into my office and uttered that all-to-frequent (and grammatically ridiculous) question, “Where’s the remotes?” To which I replied, “Oh, I have them right here. I was counting the buttons.” To which she just snatched the one she wanted, stared at me like you might stare at someone wearing three sweaters on backwards, and walked out.

Out of desperation, I once considered duct-taping all the remotes together — make them harder to lose that way, I figured. But when I tried it, I realized that with all the energy-saving buttons (et al) in my life, I’d become too flabby and weak to lift all the remotes once. Now, I’m sure my G3 could have hefted them easily, probably with just one big paw.

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