Funny You Should Say That: The Chances are Remote

Turning on the TV is not as easy as it used to be.

By John Cadley

I don’t know the children of my 84-year-old neighbor, but they must be among the cruelest people on the planet. They came from New Jersey to visit her for Christmas and gave her a 40-inch, high-definition television. Then they went back to New Jersey without telling her how to program the remote so she could use it. Oh, the heartlessness! The malice aforethought! This is like saying to a 2-year-old, “You can have a nice, big hot-fudge sundae with nuts and whipped cream and a cherry on top as soon as you tell me how to use quantum superpositions to speed up solving N by N system calculations.”

That’s why they call it a remote – because you haven’t the remotest chance of figuring it out. Not me, not you and certainly not an 84-year-old, retired kindergarten teacher with three cats, two goldfish and a cockatoo. I had my teenage son program mine and write it all down, which was no small thing, since it included my having to endure his unabashed reveling in my ineptitude. And you know what? I didn’t care. I’d rather have a live person make me feel stupid than a piece of plastic.

So when my neighbor, Cora, called to ask if I would help, I said “Sure,” grabbing my son’s instructions with the calm confidence of a poker player holding four aces.

Then tragedy struck. I had assumed that her remote would be just like mine. It was not. Not even – I can’t help it – remotely. And there was Cora, looking at me like her knight in shining armor. What could I do? 

One Step at a Time
“Okay, Cora,” I said, “the first thing is to turn on the power.” I pressed the button. Nothing. I pressed it again. Nothing. “Oh, that’s right,” I said, “you have to select ‘TV’ first.” Nothing. The cockatoo looked at me funny.

“Would these help? They came with the box.” Cora held out two double-A batteries. “They might,” I said, trying to hide my utter mortification. I inserted the batteries, pressed “Power” again, and the set turned on. Unfortunately, there was no picture, just the words “Select cable input now.” I pressed every button on the remote, to no avail. “Would this help?” Cora said. She was holding another remote, the one that came with the TV. The one I had was for the cable box. Isn’t that great? You have to use one remote to use another.

I pressed “Menu” and, lo and behold, there were a number of selections, including one for cable. I pressed it and the cable box turned on. Still no picture – just a screen that said, “Set up for viewing.” I thought it was set up for viewing. It’s a television!

I found the Set Up button, pressed it, and then was looking at a screen that said, “Select four-digit code for your electronic device.” I looked in the manual under Set Up and here’s what it said: “To view the code for the first time, press 1 once. Count the number of times the TV key blinks and write down the number in the leftmost TV code box on Page 11. Repeat Step 3 for the remaining digits.” This is when I thought I might be part of a secret government experi- ment to see what it takes to drive people insane.

That feeling increased when I saw that before I could input the code, I had to find it, which meant cycling through 17 possibilities by repeating the Byzantine process above every time. I looked at the cockatoo, he looked at me funny again, and I began to get the meaning of his look: He thought he could program this thing better than I could. It’s one thing being mocked by your own progeny; it’s even worse when it crosses species.

I actually went through all 17 codes. Nothing worked. This meant I would have to search for the code in the TV’s database by executing a series of steps even more convoluted than the last. It was getting dark, Cora had fallen asleep, and if cockatoos can laugh, this one was laughing at me. I called my son.

“Can you program Cora’s remote? I’ll give you 20 bucks.”

“Dad, I’m at my girlfriend’s. Make it $40.”


Say what you want. At least I didn’t have to pay the cockatoo. 

John Cadley is an advertising copywriter in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at