WITNESS THE American man. Once we slew mastodons with sticks, sailed fearsome oceans on a flat earth, crossed continents alone and rocketed to the moon.
Now? I troll the aisles of MyerEmco AudioVideo, Best Buy and Costco, tracking new prey.
I'm late to this hunt. My tribe—all iPhoned, BlackBerried and Bluetoothed—carped for decades about my technological backwardness, but it was always the TV that offended the most. I'd never bought a set: My first was a hand-me-down, a tiny black-and-white that friends replaced one day with color. That lasted 13 years, until a sports-drone buddy grew so insulted by my convex screen that he had a flat-screen delivered to my door.
Premium channels? Screen size? Picture quality? All that was lost on me, and behind their gibes I sensed a deep unease: I'd never upgraded. How can anyone hang with a guy like that?
January 28, 2008
Two weeks ago all that changed. "You watching this?" my big brother yelled over the phone. The Chargers were upsetting the Colts, but I couldn't watch: The screen had gone blank, and of course I had no clue why. I hammered the clicker, pounded the TV's flanks. Nothing. I hung up on my brother's pity, glared at my set and panicked.
"We're getting a new TV!" I shouted to the wife and kids.
Never mind that a quick unplug restored the picture; by then it was too late. My gadget-crazed son was whooping. I had declared myself. And like all men trapped by a rash decision—Napoleon invading Russia, Agassi shaving his body hair—I had no choice now but to go all the way. I dialed the sports drone.
"I'm going HD," I told him. "And I'm getting it in for this weekend's games."
"Finally," he said. "But this time of year you've got no shot."
No event drives TV sales like the Super Bowl, and the weeks leading to the AFC and NFC title games are like Christmas rush redux. In 2007 an estimated two million people bought high-definition TVs solely for Super Sunday. More are expected this year because, it seems, a true Super Bowl host would never subject guests to mere analog. People won't show up these days for anything less than state-of-the-art, and why should they? Even the lamest sports bar boasts a 50-inch plasma or LCD in high-def.
But I'm not here to plan a party. I have my mission. The showrooms are hardly chaos, but each proffered bribe for a rush delivery is met with chuckles. The HD sections feel like a cross between Glengarry Glen Ross and The 40-Year-Old Virgin; screens pump eye-popping images of football and war movies and busty women. All my salesmen—a codger, a slacker and a gallant Nigerian—smile sadly at my ignorance and bury me in a sermon of jargon: liquid crystal display versus plasma, 1,080p versus 720, Blu-ray versus HD DVD. I nod like a novitiate. I'm not alone. Clutches of men wander about fingering the cabinets, speaking in hushed tones. Six teens stare at a 65-inch behemoth showing a pirate flick. I feel like waving a saber—you know, in solidarity.
"Yeah, the guys come and hang out here," says my new Nigerian friend, "but then the wife comes in to make the decision."
This stuns me. Are we not men? A tubby guy in a Patriots hat nearly restores my faith when he elbows me aside, lunging for a 47-inch HD. He has a 32-incher already, he says, but needs another to set up next to it. When I ask if he's married, though, he cracks a grin. "Oh, no," he says.
That's when I decide: Here I make my stand. I will call no wife. I will ask no approval. I don't snivel when the cable company says it can't install the HD system by the weekend. I cowboy up. I subway crosstown in a snowstorm for the HD receiver. I decide—alone—on a 26-inch, flat-panel, LCD HDTV with built-in DVD, pay $1,025.75 without blinking. I drag the box through the front door like an 18-point buck.
"You're making ESPN money now?" my wife says. "We can't afford that."
I grab tools. I shove furniture, twist cables, drill holes. I hoist the set up, feel the wall quiver, place pillows on the floor for the inevitable crash. For three days I keep glancing at the receipt and ponder the alternatives: tuition, groceries, that long overdue tuneup. But then Sunday comes, and I see football at home like never before, dazzling and so clear. And at the right moment, when the Chargers intercept Tom Brady late in the third quarter, I dial my big brother.
"You watching this?" I ask.
But he isn't. He's driving from work, so I pity him back and yell some play-by-play like he'd done for me. Real men? We look out for each other like that.
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For the AFC and NFC title games I choose a 26-inch, flat-panel, LCD HDTV with built-in DVD. I drag the box through the front door like an 18-point buck.