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Tom West: Sorry, he forgot to turn down the TV

At my age, which I consider to be the middle of middle-aged, the infirmities creep up in mysterious ways. My hearing has never been the same since the Twins won the first game of the 1987 World Series, a game that I attended without the foresight...

At my age, which I consider to be the middle of middle-aged, the infirmities creep up in mysterious ways. My hearing has never been the same since the Twins won the first game of the 1987 World Series, a game that I attended without the foresight of bringing along earplugs. In crowded restaurants, I now have trouble picking a particular voice out of the din.

Regardless, the secretary of health and human services at our house thinks my hearing is going in other ways.

For example, I tend to plop down in my favorite chair after dinner and stare at the TV. I have the male chromosome that triggers an instinctive response whenever my thumb nears a TV remote. It starts twitching, and the tic lasts about two cycles through all of the available stations unless something of interest pops up on the screen.

When that happens, then I settle back in the chair until a commercial, at which time I pick up a magazine or a book. Then an internal war begins. Sometimes the TV wins out, and sometimes the book or magazine takes control. What bothers the secretary is that when the reading material wins, the TV remains on. The secretary believes that a good book should be cherished for itself, and that extraneous noise (i.e. television) detracts from the experience. I, on the other hand, think extraneous noise is normal (kind of like trying to write something coherent while sitting in a newsroom).

The trouble arises when the commercials come on. I don't know if your TV is like ours, but the decibel level for commercials is much higher than for the shows themselves. If the secretary walks into the room while a commercial is on and my head is buried in a book, the response is predictable: "That's awfully loud, don't you think? Why don't you turn it down, or if you aren't watching it, why don't you turn it off?"

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Thoroughly engrossed in a book, my response is often, "What?"

Then she begins to repeat herself, and I interrupt by saying, "Oh, sorry," as I turn the sound down.

Turning it down to the proper level, however, depends on whether a program is on or a commercial. Usually, it's a commercial, and then I feel obligated to watch the end of the ad so that I can set the sound properly for the show. Often the show draws me back. If it fails, however, a repeat performance is in store -- not of the show, but of our little living room ritual because eventually another commercial will come along that will be too loud.

I tried turning off the TV once, but the silence was creepy. What did our ancestors do without TV and radio -- talk to each other?

When our children were growing up, they thought the proper way to do homework was to kneel down at the coffee table while the TV was blaring 10 feet away. The last four years of high school, even that was insufficient stimulation for our daughter, so she rounded out her ritual by plugging a telephone into her ear while watching TV and doing her homework. Strangely, both children were good students.

But I digress. Lately this ritual has been playing itself out on a regular basis because I have had a lot of good things to read. It has just happened that way. Most of what I read is set in front of me by others. I receive a couple of books at Christmas, and then I spend the rest of the year trying to get to them as other books pass my way. The secretary is the primary reason for that. As someone who reads 100 books a year, she notes which books are worth my time and which aren't.

This year, I set a goal to alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction. I tend to race through novels, but I've been known to spend several months on a work of non-fiction. For Christmas, my brother gave me a biography of Harry Truman by David McCullough. I dreaded having to read it because it's a 990-page tome. At the speed I read non-fiction, I kept thinking that another Christmas would come and go before I finished it.

However, I finally got to it in mid-August. It's a fascinating book. Did you know that there was nothing that happened in the first 35 years of Harry Truman's life that suggested he would ever go into politics? He was a mama's boy, and his parents had a small farm near Independence, Mo. They couldn't afford to send him to college, so after high school he worked at a bank for a bit and then just helped out around the farm.

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Then the United States became involved in World War I. He volunteered and was assigned to the artillery where he saw lots of combat in Europe. The men under him were mostly from the same area of Missouri as he was from, and when they came home, they were considered war heroes. As their leader, he was backed by the Pendergast machine, which controlled Kansas City politics, to run for the equivalent of what we call county commissioner.

Unlike Pendergast, he was honest, and in 1930, when Pendergast refused to give him the nod to run for governor of Missouri, he thought about getting out of politics and going to work at a bank.

In 1934, however, Pendergast told him he could run for U.S. senator -- probably because he was a huge underdog in a three-way Democratic primary against a fellow from St. Louis and a member of the U.S. House. Truman won by 40,000 votes because in his home county he received 135,000 votes compared to 11,000 for the other two candidates combined. What a tribute ... "What?"

"Oh, sorry," I forgot to turn down the TV.

Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com .

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