I didn't realize how bad things had gotten until last night.
Imagine yourself walking toward our house. The windows are dark, save for the soft, blue glow from our TV. If you look inside, you will see us gathered around it like cavemen warming near the fire.
It was 9 p.m., and we were watching "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." His jokes about the demise of our society at the hands of conservatives lulled me into a comfortable corner of the couch. So, when the show ended, I didn't reach for one of the three remotes to turn off the TV. Instead, I kept watching.
Because it was Comedy Central, the next show was a half-hour of stand-up by someone whose name I can't remember.
His face appeared on the screen, and I said, "Hey, we know that guy. Doesn't he live in Steamboat?"
I sifted through my memories. Was he the bartender at Mahogany Ridge? Did he just start working at the Pilot? Did I see him in the morning coffee line at Mocha Molly's?
At first, my couch partner laughed. He thought I was joking.
Nay. I was serious.
Autumn, he said, that guy looks so familiar because you've seen him on VH1 doing shows like "Best Week Ever" and "I Love the '80s."
That was the moment I realized that I was a full-fledged, sucked in, TV watcher. I had just confused my Lincoln Avenue reality with my TV reality.
(Yes, this your chance to sit back and judge me.)
It hasn't always been this way. For years, I didn't own a TV.
I used to call the cast members of "Friends" "our Friends" as a way of making fun of people who watched sitcoms and came to work the next day to recap all that happened in the lives of their favorite imaginary TV characters.
But times have changed, and I date someone with digital cable. Since the days when I told that joke, I have become one of those people.
I am sedated.
Everyone has a way to escape his or her daily, paying-the-bills existence. Some people read. Some people form belief systems that transport them out of or above the mundane parts of life. Some people drink, play video games or spend hours in the gym.
They walk through different doors of perception, in the words of Aldous Huxley. Or, more realistically, they watch the Discovery Channel.
We sat on the couch in silence for a while after the "isn't that famous guy a friend of mine" incident.
Finally, my companion asked, "So, what do people do between the hours of 9 and 11 p.m. besides watch TV?"
I listed the things I imagined people doing right then --ooking at the stars, hanging out in a bar, surfing the Internet, playing cards, reading or talking.
Let's try that, we decided. Let's try just sitting around for a while and talking.
"Okay," I said. "If you had to choose one ruler of Steamboat Springs who would control everything -- someone who lives in Steamboat now -- who would it be and what would this place be like after that person took over?"
We went through everyone we knew who might make a good dictator of Steamboat, analyzing his or her good and bad qualities as master of our tiny mountain universe. After we'd gone through everyone we could think of, there was silence again. We gave up.
We turned back to the screen. "Reno 911" was on.