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Coming out of the (walk-in) closet

There’s something I need to tell you, and I hope it doesn’t lower your opinion of me. On top of coffee and cigarettes, I now sport a third addiction: HGTV.

About three weeks into my stay in the mansion basement, I realized I had access to more than just the handful of channels I was getting on my small TV – that simply by reprogramming the remote I could get more than 100. Three weeks after that new horizon opened up, there is only on channel number I have memorized, the one for HGTV. (It’s 69 on my dial.)

When I’m eating lunch, when there’s a lull in my day, when I need to step away from the keyboard and let my carpal tunnels reopen, I tune in Home and Garden Television and watch designers upgrade homeowner’s kitchens, or install a media-filled “man cave” in the basement, or turn a bedroom — from blah to ahhhh, from drab to fab — into a serene and spa-like paradise.

At the end, the homeowners get to see the transformation and say “ohmigod” a lot.

In other HGTV programming, shows follow people — young couples usually — as they search for a new home altogether, viewing three homes and then making their choice.

The part of it I like, when it comes to the design shows, is watching a project from conception to fruition, with, of course, the final touch of colorful accessories that really make the whole thing “pop.” It appeals to the Virgo, or something, in me. With the househunting shows, I like guessing which house the couple will pick (I get it right every single time), and predicting how long the marriage is going to last.

(When you can’t agree — or at least rationally discuss — something as simple as hardwood floors versus Mexican tile, your union’s days are numbered.)

Each episode of “Househunters” ends with a visit, a few months later, to the couple in their new home, into which they have comfortably settled and fixed those things they found most intolerable — whether it be wallpaper that is “too busy” or the devastating lack (it’s a cruel, cruel world) of granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

Then – and this explains a lot of why I’m hooked – as soon as one episode ends, another begins, with no commercial break … “Tom and Nancy have outgrown their modest home in Modesto, and, with another baby on the way, need someplace larger, with a large master bedroom, an en-suite bathroom and a fenced yard for their dachschund, Scooter.”

That’s all it takes. Based on that simple plot introduction — and my need to see the tidy outcome — I’m in for another 30 minutes.

Why every station doesn’t do the no-commercials-between-episodes thing – it’s sort of the TV viewer equivalent of chain smoking — is beyond me.

I think another part of the HGTV addiction – in addition to having crushes on at least two of the designers (Howyadoin’, Genevieve?) — is that the urge to nest is growing stronger in me, after nearly a year traveling the country with my dog, living out of suitcases and staying in too many Motel 6’s.

I don’t know if urge to nest is making me watch HGTV, or if HGTV is adding to my urge to nest, but I definitely have an increasing desire to have a box of my own, put my stuff in it, make it functional and decorate it with some colorful accessories that really make it pop.

There is a third factor, I think, to the addiction. Watching HGTV makes me mad, and we, for some reason, like to watch people who make us mad  — hence the success of shows like Survivor, and The Apprentice, and all those “real” housewives with artificial parts, not to mention sensitive bachelors willing to probe the souls of multiple women in search of their true lifemate.

On “Househunters,” there can be a perfectly cute and loveable young couple — the kind I could be friends with — that I instantly start hating the moment one of them turns up their nose at a laminate wood floor, or a stove and refrigerator that are, gasp, white. They seem convinced they can’t find true happiness without granite countertops.

The wealthier and pickier they are, the more I hate them, and want to send them to go work for the Peace Corps for a couple of years.

I find myself getting infuriated even more by “Househunters International” where homebuyers, usually seeking a second home, say, in the south of France, are forced to confront the bitter reality that there is only one walk-in closet, or that the ocean view from the Mexican villa they are looking at is slightly blocked by a palm tree.

Part of it, I’m sure, is jealousy — the fact that my financial situation for the moment precludes stainless steel appliances, the fact that a commodities broker, whatever the heck that is, can afford a $2.3 million second home while I can barely afford a commode.

Then again, maybe these people aren’t so greedy, and this is just another stereotype that HGTV, by taking things out of context, is reinforcing — that of the spoiled rotten gimme generation.

For sure, HGTV reinforces gender stereotypes. With every househunting couple, the woman demands walk-in closets and, generally, jokes about maybe giving her husband a little space in it. Just as the female needs closet space, the male needs a man cave, where he can watch sports on a large flat screen TV, play video games, have the boys over for poker and otherwise avoid the wife, who’s probably out buying shoes anyway.

Just once I’d like to see a man who wants a space to work on his scrapbooking, or a woman who’s interested in a barbecue pit.

My final objection to HGTV — though, of course, I don’t object enough to change the channel — is grammatical in nature.

It’s the use of the term “price point.”

I don’t know if HGTV invented this term, or if it’s something real estate agents came up with to make their jobs seem multi-faceted and complex, as opposed to something a monkey could do. For centuries, the word “price” worked just fine. Now, we have “price point,” as in “You’re not going to find anything else like this at this price point.” Or, “granite countertops are rare at this price point.”

I don’t think just cutting back on HGTV will work for me. I think the only solution is clean and total break (sorry, Genevieve) — a moratorium on HGTV. Like onion dip and coffee, it seems I can’t be happy with just a little of it. Instead, it makes me — much like the stainless-steel-appliance-seeking homebuyers — want more: More episodes, more closet space, more upscale home furnishings, and of course more colorful accessories that will really make things pop.


Comment from debbie
Time April 11, 2011 at 10:30 am

John, have you ever considered that perhaps the HGTV ‘fix’ is one of needing something that inspires and speaks to that creative part of you? I think we ( collectively) never lose our passion for creation and stiring the imagination.When you and Ace were on the road, each day was creative because you painted your own canvas. Each day was what you made it. Many of us in routine 9 to 5 ( for the most part) don’t have that option, so the creative part of our lives comes from T.V ( I’ve heard it said that court T.V shows is another big addictive outlet ). Hobbies, eating( yum)
It seems your creativing passion is your writing ( which you do extremely well… I’ve really enjoyed laughing at many of your
And..Don’t you think that we will forever need creation and passion in our lives so that we won’t become mentally old, no purpose to get up in the morning?Our best friends ( animal companions) gives a lot of us that purpose, I believe. which is maybe why we are seeing such a huge shift in the pet culture…

Comment from debbie
Time April 11, 2011 at 10:52 am

oops… in my recent post, I meant to say that I’ve enjoyed your laughing at many of your stories and feeling that I was along with you on your travels. You truly have a gift for writing!

Comment from smoketoomuch
Time April 11, 2011 at 1:49 pm

John, my opinion of you could never be lowered, regardless of your ‘addictions’, especially considering that I too am partial to caffeine and that other (shh!) one too . My opinion of commercial Television, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

Comment from TOS
Time April 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm

In our house, we call HGTV “The Suck Zone”. Once you get in, you’re there for hours.

As a workaround, we began recording “House Hunters” (Tivo). One episode at dinner, then it goes off. (We play the same game of trying to predict which house they’ll choose)

Comment from Sue
Time April 12, 2011 at 5:39 am

We recently succumbed to satellite TV (just in time for March Madness where both Duke and KU broke our hearts – but that’s another story) and find ourselves echoing your post. We are addicted to HGTV. We cringe when the demolition begins on the ____ Crash (insert your fave: bath, yard, house) but generally can’t help but hang on to see what they install and create. We share – completely- your feeling about the house hunters shows. Amen. The episodes that include this big deal at the beginning about how the couple needs a yard for their beloved dog… then end with them purchasing a 3rd floor condo or something really chap our hide. Ditto the international house hunters who are actually moving to that foreign country… and they’re such big dog lovers that they happily ensconce their dogs in quarantine for 6 months. Huh?
I suspect that after all this time on the road, both you and Ace need a nest. Vacation trips are good. Day trips are good. All taken from a cozy nest. May you find it and feather it well.

Comment from Laura H
Time April 13, 2011 at 8:32 am

Great post! I love to get mad at the people on house hunters. The ones who enter every room and say, “oh that’s nice” over and over again really infuriate me. I guess money can’t buy a vocabulary!