Media Overload

Technology is a wonderful thing. It allows you to send messages with a click of mouse and offers us more TV Channels than we could possibly ever watch in a lifetime. Instead of just getting less than a handful of channels, we can get more than 300 by subscribing to cable or satellite TV.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I think back to a man I met in college who loved media of all kinds so much, that he would surround himself with it 24 hours a day. No idea when or if he slept. He even called himself the Media Man of Black’s Gas Light Village.

Black’s was a kind of place the Bohemia of the University of Iowa campus loved to stay back in the 1970s. The place had large Victorian homes and many different shaped buildings on the grounds. None of the rooms were the same and they all had interesting names, such as attic, green house and bomb shelter. There are stories that writers Kurt Vonnegut and John Irving used to hang out there. One legend has it Vonnegut’s wife broke her leg while visiting someone there when she fell into a hole walking home one night.

No one seemed to know why, but the owner of the place would dig holes. Accidents happened when he would forget to fill them. There might be several open holes on the grounds at the same time. For those who stayed there, this little eccentricity made the place all the more charming.

In these surrounds was where I met a group of writers who gathered to read their works of fiction. That may not seem so odd, but the reader was asked to stand on a Civil War era cannon ball that came with the apartment.

I have no idea how long this tradition had been going on because renters for the past 10 years had always done it this way. The trick was to keep your balance and read or tell your story. I always found telling was better than reading since I was less likely to fall.

During one of the nights we took turns reading our short stories and poetry, I met the Media Man. He was a large, with long hair and a beard who laughed a lot. He seemed to enjoy the absurdity of people and life in general.

Intrigued, some of us asked what a Media Man is and how does one become one. He couldn’t show us in the cannon ball apartment, so we went to the attic where he lived. We walked in and found the walls covered with paintings borrowed from the local library, several piles of newspapers and magazines, a stereo, radio and a TV set. In the middle of all of this was a lounge chair, the only piece of furniture in the place beside the bed. The bed was just a mattress on the floor.

He sat down and showed us how he could have PBS on the TV, rock and roll on the radio and classical music on the stereo while reading Scientific American. We all looked at each other and shook our heads. Anyone can walk in and turn everything on and read a magazine. But just then his neighbor walked in and proclaimed the noise was too loud.

Seeing a potential for an eye witness, we stopped her from leaving and asked if she had heard the radio, stereo and TV on all at the same time before.

“Yes, every (blinking) day and night.”

We said our goodbyes and headed toward the door. We were about to leave when, in unison, we looked back at Media Man. He was rocking and smiling in his zone of sound and newsprint and books. We waved good bye. He waved back and smiled.

Some might read something into why he cut himself off from people. Me, I just wonder if he has added cell phones, email, and satellite TV to his media menagerie.




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