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That Sam was as old fashioned as you could get, especially when it came to technology. He refused to own a microwave, a cordless phone, CD player—like living in medieval times. Man, he had this wall full of records that he'd go on about for hours, making us listen to golden oldies when we were supposed to be playing cards. It wasn't so unusual—holding on to the past—but one thing that always bugged me was that TV of his.

High definition was all the rage, but here was Sam with this black and white RCA from the Stone Age. I mean, you had to turn a dial to change channels and there were only thirteen of them. I don't even know how he got any kind of signal. He used to say that God kept the shows coming. Maybe he believed the spirit of his dead wife Agnes was beaming cable down from heaven.

Come to think of it, this technology business all started when she died. Makes sense, I guess. The loss of a loved one can change us in odd ways. I think Sam wanted to stop time, or go backwards even. But there was never any sadness there. It must have been about respect—respect for things that had gotten old and were being forgotten. I'm sorry I ever stepped in to fix what I thought was broken.

2009 rolled around and the time had finally come for standard definition to take a hike, but Sam was completely out of the loop.

"They're switching everyone over to HD," I told him. "You won't be able to watch TV anymore unless you do the switch." I don't know if that was really true, but Sam said it wouldn't matter anyway. I tried to get him to call the cable company and talk to them about it but he insisted he didn't have a provider. I asked him where his cable bills came from and he just looked at me.

Maybe I was overstepping as a friend and neighbor, but I honestly thought I was doing the man a service. Wouldn't he be happier with crystal clear color on a big screen? Twenty years ago Agnes died. Twenty years was long enough. But what the hell did I know? Time is different for people like Sam—people who've lost their spouse but have to go on living. The same thing happened to my dad. It's no wonder I never married.

Every year, Sam went fishing with his brother for two weeks up in Maine. Being his most trusted neighbor, I had a key to his place in case of emergencies. But that year, I abused his trust and did something I'll regret for the rest of my life: I called up the cable company, posed as Sam and had cable installed in his house. I even bought him a brand new 32" television and had them put the bills in my name. Sounds like a good deed, right? Totally illegal, but a good deed nonetheless.

We all thought it was brilliant and exciting, imagining Sam's face when he would walk in and see the future had dropped right into his living room. Hell, we threw a little party of sorts in his house to celebrate. What a bunch of jackasses we were, patting ourselves on the back like we'd saved the guy from the oppressive regime known as standard definition. I placed his beloved hunk of junk right next to that thin black beauty for a nice juxtaposition—the old and the new, side by side. I knew he wouldn't be able to resist at least trying it out.

Sam returned late one rainy night from his fishing trip. I'd been waiting up so I could see his reaction, but I was dog tired by that point. I looked out my kitchen window into his living room. The TV wasn't visible but I knew it was on from the reflections on the glass. Man, I so wanted to call him and yell "surprise!" but it was more fun imagining what he must have been thinking. Maybe he thought God did it.

I waited for something to happen. Was he going to call and accuse me, or thank me? The phone never rang so I assumed he didn't want to wake me up. I wondered if he'd called the police but nobody showed. The waiting was driving me nuts. If I hadn't been ready to conk out I would have gone over there. I wish I had.

Early the next morning I phoned him up. It just rang—no answering machine—so I went and banged on his door. I could hear the TV but nothing else. It's not like I couldn't go right in but I sensed something was wrong and I just wanted Sam to come and tell me everything was okay. I figured he knew it was me who orchestrated the whole thing and that he was just angry.

Apprehensive as all hell, I went in, leaving the door wide open. A nervous violin crescendo escalated to a climax and then vanished, followed by a horrible scream that startled me something fierce. It sounded like one of those slasher films. I didn't recall Sam being a fan, but with over a hundred channels he was bound to stumble across all kinds of garbage.

I called out his name from the front hallway as I crept toward the living room. When he didn't respond, I thought he might have passed out from watching TV all night. But then I noticed his old RCA had fallen onto the floor, face down—not a good sign. As I gently lifted it back onto the table, there was Sam's body laying right next to it.

Face down as well, he had one hand clutching his heart and the other reaching for the something—probably the TV, but with the way he fell I'm not sure which one. I quickly turned him over to check his pulse. Needless to say, he was gone. That face still haunts me—his mouth agape, and his eyes all bugged out and bloodshot. It's not something you forget easily.

After the cops showed up, I spent a lonely night in jail. No charges were filed. Yes, I was technically a criminal, but the coroner said that Sam had died of a heart attack.

"Must have had the bejesus scared out of him by something," he suggested. And with Sam's age and apparant heart condition, can see where this is going. I guess high definition is just too real for some people. Although, in retrospect, knowing what I know about the man, there could be more to it than that.

I still have Sam's old television up on a shelf. The screen's cracked a little but the picture's okay. Sometimes, I could swear it turns on by itself when I'm not in the room. Maybe he's trying to tell me something. I just go up to it and say, "Sorry, buddy," and give it two light pats on the side. I mean it, too. I'm really sorry, Sam. I guess you're with Agnes now. Make sure to keep the shows coming.

Written by Umbrello
Content is available under CC BY-SA