In the early days of our cable tv, we were issued that magic brown box to sit on top of our tv that had a red LED display to indicate which channel we had tuned into and a little red dot of a light to indicate that it had power. We had lived on the few channels that the aerial antenna pulled in for all our lives up to this point. Rotating that poor circular dial at break-neck speeds manually to get from channel 2 up to channel 13 then back down to 8… mom or dad interjecting and chastising us that our method is “too fast… you’re going to break the dial!” (which usually resulted in a sarcastically slow click. click. click. click… as I looked back at them with a grin as if to say ‘oh, is THIS better?’.
In our little town, we knew about cable tv. We had heard about cable tv. Some of us were lucky enough to travel to a relative’s in a “big city” and had the opportunity to peruse the endless channels available in this new format. These fleeting moments were savored by us when we were given these plethoras of variations to watch. We were not used to such a cornucopia to decide from.
I remember the first time I EVER saw MTV. Again, it was a thing of legend to me; a social mecca for “what is cool”… but out of reach for us with only 5 channels. We would get to see some of the videos that were in constant rotation on MTV whenever Fridays came around and we’d watch our slimmed-down version of MTV with Friday Night Videos. We’d watch them with great interest. We’d absorb the visuals that accompanied the hot music of the day. Cindy Lauper, Madonna, Billy Idol, Talking Heads… the list went on and on. I finally had my opportunity to watch MTV when my brother and a couple friends got to go to the Empire Mall and we did some shopping. I remember visiting Scheel’s and Spencer Gifts and walking around with my teenage older brother and his teenage friends. We went to eat at the place in the mall that eventually became Hardee’s, but at the time was a pizza but the slice eatery. I remember we grabbed a piece of pizza at the counter and a soda each then went to the back of the establishment where they had a large front-projection big-screen tv that was barely focused and not very bright. But it was playing MTV. It was mesmerizing. Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” was blaring out and Billy was on the screen with his patented spiked white hair and his rock and roll angry sneer shape on his mouth. I was blown away. I don’t remember the other songs I saw that day, but I remember the distinctive commercials with the MTV theme song and astronaut planting the MTV flag on the moon. I was so hooked.
I had dreamed and dreamed of finally getting our own cable tv in Garretson and when it finally arrived, I could hardly contain my excitement. I sat in front of our console tv glued to MTV and all the other channels.
With the cable box we were issued a brown remote control that matched the color of the box. It was about the size of a Hershey bar, but thicker, and was full of small buttons (but relatively simple compared to today’s remote controls) that controlled the channel up and down or we could enter a number on the keypad. There was no volume control, I don’t think. We had to adjust the volume on the tv physically.
With the addition of dozens and dozens of channels to our lives, we were in heaven. We could travel the world by flipping the channels. We could watch our music videos any time we wanted to now… we were finally “in touch” with fashions and trends. We could see immediately the things that were cool and the things that maybe were not. I found myself lost more than once into the realm of electric information… and this was just the beginning.
My friends all over town were issued the same remote and the same brown box on top of their television sets. It didn’t take long for us to realize that this created the potential for some serious shenanigans that was just too silly to pass up. We wondered if the remotes were the same, would they work on each others’ cable boxes. Upon testing with one of our friend’s remotes on another friend’s box next door, we validated our idea and set into motion some serious hijinks.
In our small town, the extent of doing something fun on any given night was usually hanging out with friends. Either downtown we’d just hang out, or maybe we’d gather at somebody’s house and just sit and talk. Crazy nights would be when we would walk around town in our group, going from place to place just shooting the breeze and figuring out life. With the addition of the remote control in our pocket, we were now “armed and dangerous”. A group of about 4 or 5 of us walked around along the street, moving from streetlight to streetlight. At times, I’m sure we were loud. Other times, we’d just walk to get to the destination. This night, we walked and searched for our first victim. We found it when we were walking by the Hillestad place and we could see the tv on in the front living room area. We snuck up quietly to the window so we could be closer and we could see Craig’s dad, Richard, inside sitting at his chair watching the news. I pulled out the remote control and took aim at the brown box on their tv and the little red LED channel display that was on “13”. I pushed the channel up button and the screen flickered and changed color. The number read “14”. Richard looked at the tv then down at his remote control. He grabbed it and entered his channel again… 1….3…. the channel changed back. We waited. This time, we entered a different number for him….3….1….. then before he could change the channel back, we did it…. 1….3…. then he was ok. We waited again. This time we turned off the tv. You could see he was frustrated and he flipped the tv back on and then we decided to move on.
We found a few other victims to play with that night. Turning on tv’s that were off… turning off tv’s that were on. Changing channels… its was a pretty exciting night for a small town. I don’t think we ever went and did that again, even though it was fun and harmless for the most part.
We may have been easy to entertain, but at least we were innovative and creative in our attempts. We were often out wandering around town in the late (or early) hours of the night. We’d “camp” in a tent out in the backyard and then sneak out once we saw the lights go out inside the house. Most of the time, we would innocently wander around. As innocent as we were being, we didn’t want to get caught, so if we saw cars coming, we hid from them. We always assumed that ANY car was the town cop car. We always assumed he also KNEW that we were hiding from him. That he must have some instinctual trigger that went off when kids were out and up to “no good”. We’d run through backyards, lay flat on the dewy, cool grass and do just about anything to avoid being seen by the town police officer.
I remember walking up to Lutheran Cemetery and being able to see the cop driving around the pool area to give that area a "once-over" in his late night checks. I remember going up on the roof of the Drug Store and looking down on Main Street to see if he was driving by. I wonder if any of our city police officers ever did see us and were after us. Well, besides that one time that we were lighting off fireworks randomly and he’d chase the sounds. But that was just one time… and I’ll save that for another time.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.