Nick and Amy have been married for seventeen years and for the last five of those years they have had no cable television in their house because Nick was positive it was rotting their children’s brains and he wanted to make sure each and every family member in his house was squeezing every possible moment of excitement from life instead of mindlessly watching a screen. There was also something to the outrageous cable bill of 2014 that somehow crept over a hundred dollars before he got serious and pulled the plug. They do however have a plethora of online television options, but Nick pretends not to notice and Amy doesn’t flaunt it. She just wants to be able to watch mindless Kardashian-ish reality tv while she folds laundry, though she would never admit it to any of the ladies in her book club.
This particular evening, Nick and Amy, both in old sweats and minutes away from bedtime, are sprawled on the sofa, a bowl of popcorn between them, trying to enjoy an old episode of The Office on regular television. But every few words or so, the screen goes fuzzy, blinks three times, then freezes Jim or Pam’s face into a contorted mess. The first twenty-seven times it happened, Nick and Amy giggled at the frozen facial expressions, but the twenty-eighth time isn’t so funny. If it were another show, they could probably manage but in this instance, the missing word happens to be the funniest word and the punchline of all of Michael Scott’s painfully bad jokes. Frustrated, Nick bolts off the sofa, snatches the set of rabbit ears antennae from the back of the television and shakes it aggressively above his head.
“Is that any better?” Nick barks from behind the tv stand to his wife. His outstretched arm sways back and forth, jabbing one long wire into the curtains hanging in the window beside him, bending it an awkward angle. “Any better at all?”
“Um, not really,” Amy responds, shifting her position on the couch so she can toss a few popcorn kernels into her mouth. “Maybe higher? Like on the top of the shelf.”
“Nope. That didn’t work. Lower? Maybe the other side. Hang on. Nope. Maybe…yes! Right there.”
“Really? Right there?”
“Yes! Don’t move! Just like that”
“Oh my God, what are you guys doing down there?” The disgusted voice from the top of the stairs is that of their sixteen-year-old daughter Stella. “You know me and Peter are still awake up here.”
“Get your mind of the gutter, sweetheart. I’m just making sure your mom has the best television watching experience she could possibly want,” Nick shouts from the corner of the living room where he’s squatting, holding the antennae six inches off the ground.
“You know there’s such thing as cable tv,” Stella hollers back down the stairs, sarcasm dripping from her word. “Then everything would come in.”
“Thank you, Stella, for your opinion. We’ll definitely take it into consideration. Now, tell your brother to go to bed,” Amy yells back and snuggles deeper into the couch under her quilt, winking at her husband. “Right there, babe. It’s coming in perfectly.”
“Glad I can be of service, honey.” Nick wags his eyebrows at Amy before turning his attention back to Jim and Pam, the antennae balanced awkwardly in his hands.
Later that night in bed, after a full fifteen minutes of fiddling with a second, jankier, rabbit-ear antennae duct-taped back together too many times to count, so they can catch the monologue of their favorite late-night talk show host, Nick flops into bed next to Amy and sighs.
“I think we should buy a new tv antenna,” he admits as he adjusts his pillows. “One that we can put on the roof or in the attic that will work for all the televisions.
“I don’t know if I want to have this conversation with you again, Nick. You say this all the time and then you change your mind and we get stuck with the same old shitty antenna that doesn’t work.” Amy rolls over to face her husband and eyes him skeptically. “Do you not remember a few months ago when we were all watching the Oscars and you had to stand in the back of the living room for an hour with the antennae sticking out the window in the dead of winter and you swore that was the last straw? You googled antennas, had three in your shopping cart, and then you decided to wrap the one we have in tin foil instead because you watched a YouTube video of how to make your shitty antenna less shitty. So, babe, as much as I love you, I don’t believe you’re actually going to buy one.”
“I’m more than ninety-nine percent serious this time. I’m tired of these antennas not working,” Nick huffs. “I’m also tired of watching shows from the corners of the living room. I just want to sit on the couch with you, honey.” Nick wraps his leg over his wife’s body and nuzzles her neck.
“Okay. Well, good luck, God speed, and I’ll believe it when I see it.” Amy plants a kiss on his lips, pats him on the butt, rolls over, and promptly falls asleep.
Grabbing his cell phone from the nightstand, Nick begins to scroll through the pages and pages of antennas he’s googled in the past. It doesn’t take long before he’s sucked down a rabbit hole of rabbit-eared customer reviews. Sometime after midnight he gives up, tosses his phone to the end of the bed, and rolls over to spoon his wife.
“Did you order a new antenna last night?” Amy asks Nick as she pours cereal for their youngest daughter.
“We’re getting a new antenna?” demands Sophia. “Will that finally make Jeopardy come in better? It’s always fuzzy and it completely cuts out by the end. I haven’t seen the answer to Final Jeopardy in months.”
“What are you talking about, Sophie? Since when are you watching Jeopardy?” Nick squints at his ten-year-old.
“Daddy. You know I like my game shows,” she rolls her eyes at him and shovels a spoonful of cornflakes into her mouth. “So, we’re really getting a new antenna? You know, my friend Macy says it’s weird we don’t have cable. She said her dad said only people from 1980 have rabbit ears.”
“Well, you can tell Macy’s dad…” Nick retorts, but Amy steps in front of him to interrupt.
“Let’s tell Macy’s dad nothing, ok?” Amy finishes for him. “So, what did you order? The Bunny Ears 3000? The Antenna Extraordinaire? The Gold Level Antenna Experience 5.0? Don’t keep me in suspense, baby!”
“Uh, well, I’ve narrowed it down to seven that look promising,” Nick stutters, pouring coffee into a travel mug and moving quickly toward the back door.
“So, you didn’t order one?” Amy arches her eyebrow at him.
“Not yet, but have it very narrowed down to under ten possible choices,” Nick promises, holding his hands up in defense. “And…” he adds, pausing for dramatic effect
“And we’re just getting cable instead?” Sophie interjects with her mouth full. “Because Macy’s dad says everyone these days has cable and what’s the big deal…”
“Macy’s dad is a real…” Nick raises his voice to his daughter, scowling, but Amy is quick to clamp a hand over his mouth and finishes his thought for him.
“Peach, Sophie. He’s a real peach.” Shaking her head at her husband, Amy sighs and asks, “And what, Nick?”
“Well now all the excitement is gone and it doesn’t matter.” He pouts and stomps over to pick up his coffee like a petulant teenager whose story was interrupted.
“And what, babe?” Amy asks again.
“And the one I like is on sale,” Nick mumbles before he slams out the back door as Amy rolls her eyes behind him.
“Dad! Get down here! You’re going to miss the first pitch!” Peter hollers up the stairs for his dad before diving into the corner of the couch for the remote control. He cranks the volume up just as the announcers are rattling off starting line ups for Game 7 of the World Series between the Cubs and the Indians and Nick thunders down the stairs. Flopping down next to his son, Nick can’t help but look over at Amy and grin.
“Are you impressed or what, babe?”
Amy reaches across Sophia to squeeze Nick’s hand. “I’m proud of you, honey! I will admit I didn’t think you were going to pull the trigger and buy an antenna, but you did it. And, more importantly, you installed it in the attic like a professional and now all our channels come in.”
“Even extra channels! Right, Dad?” Sophie chimes in and Nick beams with pleasure.
“There sure are extra channels. We’ve got QVC now and some weird religious channels if anyone was feeling like they weren’t getting enough Wednesday morning mass in their lives. And, don’t forget that cartoon channel.”
“Dad, it’s Claymation in Spanish. I told you, we’re never going to watch that channel, okay. Now, can we all be quiet and get ready for the first pitch? The Cubs have to win this.”
“Sure thing, Pete,” Nick agrees as he taps the volume a little higher. “Although I just want to say that the Spanish program looked extremely interesting and I, for one…”
“Sorry, we’ll talk about it later. Let’s go Cubbies! Would you look at this picture? I don’t remember the old antenna having such a crisp picture. I thought about buying a different antenna, but I doubt it would have looked as good as this one. Well, now that I think about it, I wonder if…”
“Nick! Enough, okay. We get it. The antenna is great. Can we watch the game now?” Patting his hand and shaking her head, Amy swallows down a rude comment because it’s endearing how excited Nick is about his prize antenna. So very endearing. Pretty endearing.
“But isn’t it crazy how we didn’t even know the Catholic channel was out there before because the old antenna didn’t pick it up? I mean, that’s ridiculous, right Amy?”
“Seriously, Nick? Are you thinking of converting right now? Your team is playing in Game 7 of the World Series at this very moment and you want to talk about the church channel?”
“Ok, I’m sorry,” Nick holds his hands up in defense and settles back into the couch. “It’s just that the number of channels this antenna is bringing in is really surprising. I mean, I knew it would be good. But I had no idea it would be this great! It makes me think that if I would have bought the step up from this, we could really start pulling in some channels we don’t even know about.”
“Dad!” his three children scream in unison. “The Cubs!”
“Ok, ok. I get it.”
“You know,” Sophie says as she lolls her head against Nick’s shoulder, “Macy’s dad says he’s an Indians fan.”