I double-checked the channel to make sure I was on the right floor. It helps to think of DirecTV as a department store that starts on the first floor: Channels 100 to 199 are where you go for pay-per-view movies, 200 to 299 for news and miscellaneous programming (such as round-table discussions on the Stooges). The 300 level is where the sporting events live. It is the candy store, and you are the kid.
I loitered around the candy store for a few more minutes, then hit the lights. The green OFF/ON button of the decoder box stared eerily back at me in the darkness, the sullen eye of an alien I had foolishly invited into my home.
Actual live games don't start till 4:30 p.m., Pacific time. Until then, the channels pulled down by the dish offer, among other things, a stupefying array of fringe sports. Over the next few days I will come to know the difference between dressage and puissance. I will wonder why, after soccer players in Europe and South America score, they run away from their teammates, who are trying to congratulate them. I will become frustrated by the fact that you can't see the ball in a televised squash match. I will wince for bull riders stomped during the rodeo, for fish hooked during fishing shows and for audience members who must endure the banalities of that bottom-feeder of sports programs, the coach's show. (Note to Danny Ford: Start enunciating, or provide subtitles.)
Did I mention waterskiing? Between periods of a rerun of last night's New York Islander game, I see the Hanson brothers, characters from the movie Slap Shot, towed by a Zamboni, striking synchronized waterskiing poses, up on one foot, waving to the crowd as if they were at Cypress Gardens rather than at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders lose the game 7-3; it's their seventh loss in their last 12 games, and coach Mike Milbury looks as if he regrets his decision to leave the cocoon of the ESPN studio. From where I sit, the solution seems obvious: Milbury must sign the Hanson brothers.
10:30 a.m.: What's this? Arizona Fall League baseball! Today's game pits the Scottsdale Scorpions against the Peoria Javelinas. Click.
These are the horse latitudes of the programming day. I swing over to channel 319 to catch the end of the Barry Alvarez Show, just in time for the Wisconsin coach's special guest: Donna Shalala, the former Wisconsin chancellor who is now U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. The show's earnest young host, Jeff Lenzen, asks Shalala, "How's it going for you?" There is no mistaking Lenzen for Ted Koppel.
Shalala knows her audience and speaks to it in its language. "Running the government shouldn't be any different from running a university or running a football team," she says. Both Barry and Jeff seem pleased with this answer, and we go to a commercial message from the Joe Rizza Automotive Group.
11 a.m.: The first five minutes of Boilermaker Express, on channel 319, are devoted to gloating over Purdue's rout of Indiana, which gave the Boilermakers possession of the Old Oaken Bucket. Next up on the same channel is Indiana Football with Bill Mallory. Here the issue of the Hoosiers' loss of the Old Oaken Bucket is dealt with more succinctly. The Penn State Football Story is next, followed by the show of Florida coach Steve Spurrier, followed by Northwestern coach Gary Barnett. I am reminded of Macbeth, who, upon seeing a series of nightmarish apparitions, cries out, "What, will the line stretch out to th' crack of doom?"
4 p.m.: The NHL pregame shows are kicking in. On channel 306 the folks at Madison Square Garden Network have a gleam in their eyes. Blood seems to be in the water in New York City. Ranger head coach Colin Campbell was overheard after Monday's game engaging in a shouting match with winger Luc Robitaille. During a pregame interview with Campbell, the MSG reporter refuses to drop the subject. "I guess what we're looking for is some controversy," says Campbell calmly.