I used to be able to fix the TV by turning knobs. Now I have to "access the menu" with a remote-control device. This new style of fixing a bad TV picture has been a major adjustment for me.

The saga began when the family's aged color TV stopped working. I wasn't sure exactly how old the broken set was, but I knew it arrived in our household before the kids did. And the oldest kid is now 10.

Usually when that venerable TV went out of whack, all I had to do was push the three buttons on the front of the set. To get a good picture, all the buttons had to be facing the same direction. Either up or down. It didn't matter which. All that mattered was button harmony.

The set also had one knob that turned the set on and off and controlled the volume. In the latter days of its life, this knob gave me trouble. It started censoring what I was I watching.

I would be stretched out in the recliner enjoying "Great Moments in Zone Defense," when the set would suddenly switch itself off. I would jump and turn the show back on.

Sometimes the set would permit this. Sometimes not. If the set was ina disapproving mood, it would shut itself off again.

At other times, the set would relent, especially if I slapped it around. Then the set would allow me to watch the program, but only at an "approved" volume level . . . Usually that level was deafening. Any attempt to lower the sound meant the reception stopped.

One day the old set went dark and couldn't be slapped back to life.

I took it to two repair shops. First I took it to a shop near the Pimlico track. This shop kept the set for a week, then charged $18 to tell me the set wasn't worth saving. I was offended. Granted the set was temperamental, but we went way back.

Immediately I lugged the set off to get a second opinion, this time from a shop in Dundalk. This shop took the TV, but said it would take weeks for a diagnosis.

Meantime, I replaced the big color TV set that the kids used with a small black and white TV set that my wife and I watch.

The kids did not care for the switch. One night I caught one of them pummeling the side of the black and white TV.

"What's the matter?" I asked the kid.

"There's no color," the kid replied.

I tried to explain the conceptual purity of black and white television to him. He gave me a blank look. A few days later I went shopping for a new color TV.

It had been more than a decade since I purchased a TV and I was not quite up on the new lingo. All I wanted from the new set was a good picture and a method of controlling the volume other than slapping the side of the cabinet.

In the store I spotted a color TV that was "programmable" and had "digital channel display," and only cost $200. I figured that if it was "programable" and "digital" I could adjust this set with a remote control.

I brought the set home, lugged it into the family room and turned it on. It worked fine. But searching through the packing material, I couldn't find any remote control.

I surmised that for $200 I got a TV but not a remote control. So a few days later I called up the store where I bought the TV and told them I now was ready to buy a remote control.

After some consultation, the clerk told me that while the set I bought was "programmable" and "digital," it wouldn't respond to any remote control. For that I needed a new set.

So I switched sets. And for another $100 or so I got a color TV that had a remote control device, a real fancy one. One that "accesses menus," three of them.

That is what I am supposed to do, the store clerk told me, when I sharpen the color picture by "getting the blacks black and the whites white . . . then work on the crispness."

I have read the remote-control instruction manual. Reading it took me about an hour. Right now I am building up my remote control confidence.

And any day now I am going to "access."

But the other night when the TV went out of whack, I had a real strong urge to stand up and slap it.

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