Walter Pierce

re: Death by digits

by Walter Pierce

There is no catharsis in the violent death of a companion.

(with video)

Friday morning I bid adieu to an old friend. It wasn’t a “so long“ or a “see ya later.” It was “goodbye.” Forever. We had been through some good times together, some great times together, me and my buddy, and some heartbreak, too. Thick and thin. Feast and famine. All the clichés. There was a close call last February. Hospice was called in, last rites were ordered. But my friend lived on until Friday.
When broadcasters across the country finally shut down the analog drip, my 10-inch Magnavox television set flat-lined in a screeching spasm of static — death cascading across the dial, first LPB, then the big three affiliates and FOX. There was no gasping or rasping or wheezing into oblivion. No last exhale of a friendly Casper-like ghost. It was sudden and final and violent. Dead. Gone.
And there will be no reprieve. There is no colostomy port on the back of this television for a life-giving digital converter box. Its tap vein cannot be found. It is at least brain dead, which is dead in my book. An eight-pound Terri Schiavo.
The little off-white set with the broken antenna had been a companion for a dozen years or so — young and fresh when it came to me, and eager to divine sound and moving pictures from the invisible air around it. I wish now I had named it. I would have called it Sparky.
I bought it for 50 bucks from a freckly fatherless boy who wandered the neighborhood peddling household goods for his cash-strapped mama. 
The set chronicled the long indigestion of the Bush presidency, the nightmare of 9-11 and the never-ending Iraq War to the inauguration of Obama. It has gone out on a higher note than it came in on, being the first to tell me about Monica Lewinsky. A cigar? Really? I didn’t believe Sparky — yes, I’m calling it Sparky now — but it was true.
For the last decade Sparky lived on the back porch, keeping me abreast mainly of the fortunes of my beloved bedraggled Saints, and the teams who competed against them, and “Antiques Road Show” and “Frontline,” and “60 Minutes” on Sundays when the nearby barbecue pit — another old friend sucking vainly for air — hinted that chicken was not my forté; stick with sausage. 
If you’re one of the sentimentals for whom things aren’t just things but markers that chart your life, then these things have a residue on them that is greater than the stuff they are made of: more important than the plastic and diodes, transponders and tubes and other embellishments of engineering that occupy their innards. Sparky was the threadbare shirt I wore when a child was born, the wallet that bore my first driver’s license. Damn this disposable age.
I can’t bring myself to throw Sparky into the garbage or even to wait for a household hazardous waste day. I can’t even bring myself to assign gender to Sparky. It will go into the attic and join the relics that simply cannot be tossed. I’ll leave it for my kids to decide what to do with him. I called Sparky a him. O ...