Long before computers, smart phones, and music apps were ubiquitous, or even existed, there were many ways to tune into entertainment and tune people out.
“I don’t bother you when you’re watching ‘Howdy Doody,’ do I?” my mother used to say, trying to get us kids to be quiet while she watched Walter Cronkite on the “CBS Evening News.”
She continued saying that even when I was a teenager and I barely remembered who Howdy Doody — the SpongeBob SquarePants of his day — was. Instead of actively tuning us out, my mom was trying to get us to leave her alone so she could watch the news in peace.
My father’s efforts were less directed. With the advent of transistor radios, ear buds — then called earphones — seemed to spring organically from his ears. They were his version of Google glasses — a 24-hour connection to his beloved sports teams: the Phillies, Eagles and 76ers.
No one’s home
Psychologists say a woman will marry someone like her dad. And many years later, I did. Often my husband, Craig, is connected by earphones to sports radio.
For Craig there would seem to be no easy escape from me. Our home is like an opera theater: three floors with an open design, an atrium in the center that conducts sound throughout the house. If I want to ask him something, and he’s downstairs and I’m up, I just stand by the lookout over the first floor and shout it out. Usually he answers, except when he’s wearing earphones, something I often forget about and somehow don’t even notice.
Whenever he doesn’t answer me, I give him a hearing test. I’ll shout: “There’s a tarantula in the tub!” It somehow ridiculously comes out of my mouth as taran-toola — like an Italian wedding dance or a spider who works for the mob. Forget the fact that poisonous tarantulas are native to Central and South America, and nowhere to be found in Philadelphia.
I’ll expect Craig to get a good laugh and correct me, but even though he is standing only a couple feet away, it’s as if our opera house is empty. No answer.
Still forgetting his earphones, I test him again, reverting to one of my favorite lines from the movie “True Lies,” when Jamie Lee Curtis says to her distracted husband Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’m having an affair.” Not listening, Schwarzenegger who’s a little preoccupied by his job as a spy responds, “That’s nice.”
“Craig, I’m having an affair,” I say. Usually when I say this, he’ll respond, “No you’re not.” But this time my words don’t faze him.
Normally, Craig pays me lots of attention, so I can’t complain, but clearly it’s time for me to do my own thing, so I head out to the gym. I’m a new member. I’m set to work out on a stationery bike, but I’m not familiar with the equipment. I push lots of buttons, but nothing seems to get the bike started.
The gym is filled with people, but every single one of them is wearing earphones. More than a dozen people each on their own planet — make that galaxy. Still I try to enlist the help of at least one person.
As I see someone get off the treadmill and head towards the elliptical, I call out at them and see if I can get their attention, “Can you tell me how to get my bike workout started?” But, they don’t look up. I may as well be in China or on the moon. My words are unintelligible and unnoticed.
I walk into the adjoining equipment room, where people are lifting weights. Again, not one person is disconnected from their phone, listening to music or looking at emails. That or they’re watching the big-screen TVs.
I think of the iconic book of the hippie generation, “Be Here Now.” No one is here now; they are all there, wherever “there” is. I’ve left my own loveable headphone zombie at home and exchanged him for a gym full of them.
Luckily I finally figure out how to get the bike started on my own, plug in my earphones and begin listening to a book on my phone. This is clearly the way to go.