Lessons from HGTV

My husband and I have been among the cable-free for most of our lives. We banned even broadcast TV when the kids were little – and then went with the whatever-you-can-get-with-an-antenna approach as they left the nest. It is only in the past two (?) years that we’ve had basic cable, and only because our superfast internet provider – yes, that’s (BAD WORD) Comcast – charged less if you had the basic cable package. Soooo devious.

Anyway, through a series of truly unfortunate events, I have had the dubious privilege of watching a buttload of HGTV (the Home and Garden network) over the past month or so. (I want my time back!) Here’s what I learned: My kitchen is apparently a gut job. I have WHITE appliances; my countertops are NOT granite; the floor is (I am SO embarrassed) LINOLEUM. Apparently this cozy sanctuary with its warm cherry cabinets and corner booth (which matches the cabinets and took eons to find on craigslist) is unacceptable, even un-American.

My housing faux pas do not end in the kitchen. My bathrooms are also clearly atrocious – again, no granite, no “rain showers”, no updated faucet fixtures and definitely no separate-from-the-shower jetted tubs – and (mea culpa, again) there are those offensive tile counters in the upstairs w.c. Oh and we have no actual “master” bedroom and certainly no en-suite. All housing infractions that must be remedied.

It goes on from there: Knock that wall out! Refinish/replace the hardwoods! Where are the walk-in, 300-square-foot closets? This basement qualifies as a cave but not a MAN cave! I think you’re getting the picture.

The conclusion that I’ve drawn from my month-long experiment is not news, at least to me. I’ve always known that advertising often (always?) works on the premise that you can sell stuff to people by making them feel “less than” without your product/service.

So it is with the entire HGTV cable network. In the guise of what is trendy, “attractive” and only very occasionally more functional, the content of these programs works at making house hunters and home owners generally feel that their current digs aren’t good enough and must be completely remodeled or that they must (are entitled to? There’s a really strange psychological vibe going on here) have a home with certain de rigeur “updated” amenities. I’ve cringed repeatedly watching young home buyers declare that a perfectly functional kitchen (like mine!) must go because it lacks the latest fill-in-the-blank (countertops, appliance types, cabinets, fixtures…). Bathrooms are the second most offensive rooms, according to these (no other word applies here) brainwashed consumers. So they gut. (Where does all of that stuff go? Is it ever recycled? Most of it is perfectly good. Sigh.).

(There is also the issue of the size of the houses being sought. Most often it’s a couple with maybe a child or two, but they’re looking for a five bedroom/four bath, 4,000 square foot behemoth. In Our Fair City of Portland, someone came up with the acronym McPOS – McPieceOShit – for the current practice of razing completely fine vintage homes and building, in their stead, humongous, even-more-unaffordable “refurbished” houses. I grew up in a family of seven and we thought our 2,000 square foot Colonial was the Taj Mahal. I’ll save the Bigger is Not Better rant for later.)

In exchange these folks take on significantly more debt while substantially increasing their ecological footprint. There’s a likelihood that they take the same approach in other areas in their lives: their cars, their clothes, their furniture, their TVs, their phones… All at a great cost to themselves and the environment.

Unfortunately, there’s little or no self-reflection by these consumers. They’re cogs in a giant machine, fitting into the culture, keeping up with the Joneses.



A good day, textually

Yesterday was a good day. Not because I climbed a mountain or received a book contract or even successfully navigated the aisles of the neighborhood grocery store. I did none of those things; I did, in fact, very little. It was a good day because two people (besides my husband and I who are, of course, under familial obligation) told me that my sons (MY sons!) were decent human beings.

My older son is visiting New England and staying with a college friend of mine who lives outside of Boston. She showed him the town yesterday (God bless her!). She texted me, “Ben is a fine young man and lots of fun!” Sigh. Meanwhile, back here in sweltering Portland, my younger son spent a couple of hours working on my oldest brother’s computer. I texted my brother later and said Scott would be happy to come out again if need be. He texted back: “I think he helped a lot … he’s a good kid.” 🙂 (The smiley face is me, beaming.)

Becoming a parent is perhaps the only thing in my entire life that I can say, unequivocally, I have no regrets about. But raising kids is an inexact science and even, at times, a crap shoot. I’ve seen folks I consider far better parents than I watch in agony as their children struggle – with drugs, with financial problems, with mental illness, with life. I know that I am damned lucky that my children have not fallen off the edge of the world. Feedback from the universe that their moral compasses appear to be in good working order means everything to me…

I rail often against the inaccuracy/impersonal nature/quandary of communication by text but one thing going for it, it IS there in black and white, a testament, good or bad.

Yesterday, it was good. 🙂