55 Inches

On a sunny day the TV doubles as a mirror. 

My apartment has a large living room with hardwood floors and a huge picture window that lets in a lot of natural light. The furnishings are pretty eclectic since they’ve been cobbled together from things my roommates own plus whatever crap previous tenants have left behind. Our couches, for example, come from a former roommate who moved out but didn’t want to try and get them down the staircase. And there’s two pieces of art on our walls of unknown origin – an abstract painting that’s essentially a splotch of red paint on a white canvas and a mysterious Impressionistic painting of a French street scene in a frame with a built-in spotlight. Sometimes I look at it and wonder if my roommates and I are one Antiques Roadshow appearance away from becoming millionaires.

When I moved in, my sole contribution to the living room was a small, black-varnished entertainment center from IKEA that I had bought for the 32 inch TV in my bedroom but no longer needed. For the first two months my entertainment center supported a big screen TV belonging to one of my other roommates, but then he left and took the TV with him.

Our next roommate – we’ll call him “Smiley” – had a big screen TV back home in Boston, and at his suggestion the three of us chipped in $30 apiece to have it shipped out here for our living room. At first, paying $30 to have a 50 inch HDTV seemed like a pretty good deal, but what Smiley neglected to mention when we made the deal was that he really didn’t want either one of us using the TV when he wasn’t around.

Smiley spent the next few months parked on our couch in front of his TV, chain smoking blunts and watching SportsCenter. He had another, smaller TV in his bedroom that was also always on and also always tuned to SportsCenter, so for much of the spring and summer of last year our living room was just a haze of marijuana smoke and echoing, slightly out of sync sports commentary. On the rare occasions that Smiley left the apartment and returned to find somebody else using the living room TV, he would voice his disapproval by sighing heavily, going into his room, and blasting loud music until whoever was in the living room gave up and left.

One time, in spite of the loud music, my roommate Briggon sat watching TV in the living room for nearly an hour until Smiley emerged from his room and said, “So how much TV watching do you think $30 gets you?” He then unplugged his big screen TV and took the cord back into his bedroom in order to ensure that nobody could watch the living room TV without his explicit approval.

When we evicted Smiley in August he took both of his TVs and pouted his way back to Boston, and we got our living room back. Only now our living room had no TV in it, and our replacement roommate, Travis, didn’t have one to contribute. My entertainment center just sat there, empty save for a couple of old issues of GQ that Smiley had forgotten to take with him.

Briggon and I both have smaller TVs in our rooms, and since pretty much the only thing either one of us wants to do at any given moment is watch Netflix, that’s where we spent most of our time. We’d go for weeks without seeing each other, only catching up when we both happened to be microwaving dinner in the kitchen at the same time. Sitting in our rooms watching TV was more entertaining than sitting in the living room watching our Impressionistic painting of French people, so our spacious and comfortable living room went largely unused for months.

Whenever we’d be making dinner at the same time, Briggon and Travis and I would talk about getting a TV, but always in vague if/then terms. “IF I get a big tax return this year THEN I might get us a TV.” “Yeah, IF I get that promotion THEN I should be able to buy a new TV in a couple months.” “IF Best Buy starts accepting unfinished scripts as payment THEN I’ll buy every big screen TV they have.” But because none of us ever had a spare $1000 burning a hole in our pocket, we never got much further than that – and our living room stayed as empty as an IKEA showroom after hours.

This past Wednesday was Briggon’s birthday, and I returned to the apartment that afternoon to find a brand new 55-inch LCD TV sitting on my entertainment center beneath the French painting, and my roommates sitting in front of the TV watching Skyfall with their mouths hanging open. It turns out Briggon’s boyfriend had gotten sick of listening to us endlessly waxing on about getting a TV and just went ahead and bought one for him as a gift. This is the benefit of having at least one roommate who’s capable of sustaining a serious relationship.

It’s been less than a week, but already the presence of a TV in our living room has completely changed the way my roommates and I live in the apartment. Now that there’s a big, shiny, high tech reason to go in the living room, everybody’s started spending more time there. Just last night my BFF Sabba and I stopped by the apartment on the way back from dinner to find Briggon watching the end of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. We sat down to join him for the last 10 minutes or so, and then spent the next hour sitting around gabbing while the movie’s Blu-Ray menu looped over and over in crisp, colorful HD.

Technology gets a lot of criticism for isolating us from other people – we spend more time interacting with screens and less time interacting with friends and family. I think that’s a valid concern. But at the same time, my roommates and I have only started seeing more of each other since 55 inches of screen showed up in our living room.

For example, we’ve quit eating our meals in front of the TVs in our bedrooms and started eating our meals in front of the TV in our living room. That may not sound like progress, but we’re now a considerably more social bunch of couch potatoes.

Truman Capps has HBO Go and an enormous TV to watch it on, which means he may well make it through the summer without having to go outside.