Aug. 27 2003 12:00 AM

Remote control freak:The art and the skill of channel flipping

My girlfriend, W., and I are watching television. She is on the couch with the remote control, flipping around the dial searching for something good to watch and I'm on the recliner, staring at her with love and amazement and thinking, This woman is the worst remote control channel flipper ever.

Of course, she doesn't get her hands on the remote all that often as I am a bit of a control freak. But in the rare occasion that she does stake a claim to it, she always sends us spiraling into a substandard world of Television Suckland-so much so that I find myself directing her flippages from across the room-"Keep going, keep going, keep going, wait, wait! Go back..."-until the clicker comes sailing through the air toward my head-forcing me to duck-then crashes into the wall behind me and breaks into about three or four pieces, which has me always running over to the injured remote.

"Oh no, no, no-are you all right?" I plead to the tattered motherboard lying lifeless in my hands, then carefully rebuild it with duct tape and rubber bands, point it at the television, breathe a sigh of relief when the television responds appropriately and shoot angry glares at the heartless devil woman who did this terrible thing.

This is what I'm remembering as I watch her awkwardly flipping around the dial. I stare in amazement and disbelief as she passes up Jackass only to stop on Trading Spaces, and I squirm in pain as some entirely unfascinating housewife on my television is delivering an entirely unfascinating soliloquy about which grade of sandpaper to use on the countertop in question and I'm wondering: Why, why, why this when we can watch Steve-O swallow a gold fish and puke it back alive again?

This is a woman who wouldn't recognize bad programming if it were called "Fonzie's Place"-featuring Henry Winkler as old man Fonzarelli living in the retirement home, hitting on the old ladies and breaking his hip in every episode.

Not only has W. not mastered the art and science that is television remote control operation-she doesn't even realize such art or science exists. Like all arts and sciences, it's the little things that make the difference. For example, say you are watching Law and Order, and a commercial comes on, and you start flipping. An inspired channel scanner knows that during a commercial break, you only have a few minutes before you must return to Law and Order. So there is no point in looking for anything meaningful. But here comes W., passing Women on Trampolines-searching and hoping for something in a Hepburn or a Sarandon and wasting what valuable little Women-on-Trampolines viewing time there is left!

These are the kinds of skills one must master on the journey to Zen flipping. Skills like Immediate Crap Recognition (identifying a crappy program in less than two seconds). Skills like Channel Return Timing (an inferior flipper will return to the original program too soon, or worse, too late).

And, I'm sitting here watching W. erratically flip-flopping between Law and Order and Trading Places like a fish that's been gaffed and tossed onto the dock, and I get to thinking: maybe it's not only my woman who is remote-control challenged. Maybe it's a gender thing. Maybe men are better remote controllers because searching for the perfect show at the perfect time is like the hunting-and-gathering experience. Or maybe a remote control is an extension of the penis (which would explain why men wield it so masterfully while women clumsily wave it around like a cheap strap-on dildo in a third-rate porno).

Who knows. All I can say is, that's my lady over there on the couch-viciously clawing the clicker like an owl shredding a bunny-and I wonder, Can I love a woman who treats a clicker so badly?

Especially this clicker.

All those years of crashing into walls has taken its toll. The battery cover is busted. A rubber band keeps it together. The front plate is missing. The transmitter bulb is exposed. Half the numbers don't work. Still, I love that old bird. She's like an aging Kennedy matriarch: fragile and weak-but still completely in charge.

And I don't much care for how W. mistreats her.

I say, "Woman, you are the worst remote controller ever. Don't you know there is an art and a science to that?"

"You just want me to give you the remote 'cause you're a control freak," she snaps. "You always want to control what we watch."

"But honey," I declare, "Just because I'm a control freak doesn't mean I'm not the best person to take control. Besides, where would we be without control freaks? Pub crawls would never make it to the next pub; bands would never make it to the next gig; and strippers would never get hired for the bachelor parties-the world would be in chaos! So why don't you just hand over the remote-carefully please, carefully-and make us some sandwiches or something."

... And here it comes now, the clicker, sailing through the air like a hockey puck. I duck as it soars over my head and crashes into the wall behind me-batteries and springs and circuitry spilling onto the floor like robot vomit. I reassemble it lovingly while W. stirs mayonnaise into a bowl of tuna.


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