An ad for the new gas pump TV programming.

by Hugh Gilmore

Editor’s Note: Due to an email forwarding snafu, last week’s column by Hugh was not the right version. It was a version written some time ago, sent and then run in error. Below is the column that should have run last week. Sorry for the confusion.

If you hate the notion that greedy people with big budgets and small souls are sneaking up on you, read on. Our subject today continues last week’s: Waiting Room TVs.

My most recent sighting: televisions mounted atop gas station pumps. The ad writers think We the People are a bunch of stupid, stimulus-bound cows who will donate brain time to anything in television form.

In last week’s column, as I walked around a Sunoco gasoline pump’s mounted telly with sabotage in my heart, I slipped into a reverie of another encounter with uninvited television. This was at Wills Eye Hospital a few years ago.

My son, Andrew, aged 18 then, had just had surgery to reattach the slipping retina of his one functioning eye. Worried terribly, his mother and I sat in the small waiting room, anxious to learn how he was. A woman there with two men suddenly turned on the television. I found it loud, intrusive, inappropriate, and jarring. About five minutes later, though, the three people were called out of the room. I’d had it by then. (This after an earlier disagreement – the day before at 7 a.m. – with the receptionist in the emergency room who wouldn’t let me turn down the volume on the in-your-face TV kept there to calm the masses.) I went to the doorway and looked up and down the hall. Empty and quiet. Time to get busy.

The sleeping Cyclops was mounted high on the wall. I walked under it and looked up to examine its life support system. One black and one white cable. I hoped they weren’t screw-ons. They take more time than pull-offs. Disconnectivity on my mind, I started to reach up. But, oh oh.

From where I stood, I could see the TV-lovin’ lady coming down the hall. I dropped my arm and massaged my neck. She stepped in and looked at me. Puzzlement crossed her face. Why would a grown man be standing in the corner, under the TV set, in a hospital waiting room, while his relative was getting his eye operated on?

I pointed at the landscape print on the opposite wall and said to my wife, Janet, tilting my head this way and that, getting perspective, “Yeah, you can really see how it works from here, the way the mountains blend with the sea.”

The Remote Control Woman walked out.

I was being ridiculous, I knew, and behaving inappropriately. But I had felt assaulted, and my rights to worry in peace had been disrespected. Yesterday, waiting for the diagnosis, there’d been that terrible TV in the waiting area. Now, during Andrew’s operation, here was its nasty kid brother. And they were just two of the evil spawn of whatever coven had loosed them on the land.

In my cardiologist’s office two weeks ago, at 7:15 in the morning: “The Morning Show.” At the Social Security office on Midvale Avenue, while I sat captive, an intensely loud and violent video with Harrison Ford –”The Fugitive” – split my skull. In nearly every restaurant that has a bar. In some supermarkets. Even at Conicelli Nissan on Ridge Avenue, the small waiting-for-your-car-to-get-well room is dominated by a shouting 32-inch pain in the ear. (Whose remote control batteries I removed when no one was looking – “silentium est aureum.”)

I waited under the TV after the woman walked away. Then I reached up and pulled the white cable out of the back of the TV. I left it propped to look like it was still on duty.

Twice while we waited, the three addicts came back for a fix but “It’s not working right,” the woman said. When I was younger I’d enjoy a prankish scene like this. But today I felt a bit guilty. I wanted to admit I’d pulled the plug and then fix the problem, but I kept my mouth shut. Time dragged quietly by.


Three hours later, the operation was over. We listened nervously to the surgeon. More extensive surgery than he’d anticipated. Everything looked good though. Retina was flat. Andrew came through fine. He’d awakened from the general anesthesia. He’d be up to his room soon. As for his studies—he’d not be able to read for about a month. Finishing the semester would probably not be possible. We’d worry about that later. Most important, his vision was probably saved.

Jan and I waited in his room. In a while he was wheeled in. One of life’s more horrible inducers of feeling helpless is the sight of your child on a gurney. Just as my heart sank, it rose again when the nurses asked Andrew to lift himself onto the bed. He did. And moved to the middle when they asked him to adjust himself. When the nurses left, Jan and I stroked his brow, talked gently to him. Heard his kindly, polite voice respond. Such a relief.

We sat together in his room, watching the shadows lengthen slowly across the city and along the wall of Andrew’s room. A loving, still-a-bit-worried, family. Absorbing the peace from one another.

Janet had decided to stay over, “just to be sure.” At dusk, I said goodbye and left. We’d talk later. I’d go down and cross the street and stand near the Wills Eye entrance, next to the bicycle rack, and wave up to the 7th floor. Bye Janet. Bye Andrew.

I left the room, feeling sad but somewhat relieved. One critical stage of the ordeal had been endured. As I rounded the corner, I could see some people were sitting in the family-waiting lounge across from the elevator. Some other poor souls still waiting to learn the fate of their loved one’s vision.

I pushed the button and stood with my back to the room. When the elevator bell dinged I stepped in and turned around and pushed the first-floor button. I looked across the corridor.

Oh no. The same people. The TV woman, the guy with the key chain and the sideburned guy – all still waiting for fate to make the call. And, to my chagrin, riding quite plainly at the surface of their worried faces was the easily read disgust of people who are bored out of their doggone minds because …  the danged TV’s not workin’!

Darn. I felt bad for ruining their evening. I didn’t need the lounge to be quiet any longer. Some people need television to get through their grief. I could cure that family’s problem in a jiff. I should just go in and reach up and slip that white cable back in place.

I worded my apology in my head: Sorry. Nothing personal. Not in my right mind from worrying.  The doors closed. I felt myself being delivered away.

That’s what I was remembering as I walked around the Sunoco pump. I kept my hands in my pockets as I visually inspected the Cyclopean nuisance. No visible wires. No push buttons. No switches. Probably wired from underneath, or operated by a wireless system. Sleek, tamper proof. Nothing I could think to do.

Besides, that pump and those TVs are private property. I’d be breaking a law if I damaged them. And really, after all, I don’t have to buy my gas there, do I? will lead you to more of Hugh Gilmore’s writings


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