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Watching TV with this father-in-law not for the fainthearted

(Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections and contributes a regular column.)

First, in the interest of complete disclosure, I should point out that I don't have cable TV.

Thanks to a $10 set of rabbit ears I got at Fred Meyer, my television gets the nine channels you see at the top of the listings in the paper, and that is enough for me. The next 36 channels on the TV page include some I wouldn't mind getting, but I don't care enough to pay for them. And the only time I envy those with premium channels is when 'The Sopranos' is going hot and heavy on HBO, which it usually isn't.

But you would not believe what strange things my father-in-law watches on his satellite system.

Let's call this man Cecil, and allow me to explain a couple of things about him. Cecil might live out in the country, but he's a smart, well-read person. He devours newspapers, magazines and non-fiction books, and he knows a lot of things on many different subjects. He's also a very friendly guy who everybody dearly loves.

But he is - and this is not an exaggeration - the all-time weirdest TV watcher in the world.

It also must be acknowledged that, without the satellite, Cecil and his wife would not get any TV reception, because there is no local cable system where they live. If I resided in that particular spot in the Coast Range, I too would be a subscriber.

Their Direct TV package provides (and I'll quote from the company's own literature here) 'over 140 top channels including movies, sports, family favorites and 50 XM Satellite Radio Channels as well as local channels.'

Ironically, Cecil doesn't care about movies, sports, family favorites or any of that radio junk. He watches only news, nature shows, the History Channel and three unusual favorites: RFD-TV, CCTV International and UWTV.

Not familiar with those? I'll fill you in.

n RFD-TV, devoted to the rural life, calls itself 'Rural America's Most Important Network.' This might be the one channel that occupies most of Cecil's television time. He watches 'The Big Joe Polka Show' (sort of an 'American Bandstand' for older folks who like a few hay bales around when they're dancing); livestock auctions (which appear to be on night and day and feature voluminous statistics on many, many identical looking angus bulls, for example); and such equine offerings as 'The Roping Show With Tyler Magnus'; as well as all kinds of other shows on breaking horses, treating animal diseases, farm life, etc.

RFD-TV also boasts a good deal of music, usually featuring well-dressed folks outside in a field or under a tree playing bluegrass, country and other 'roots' type music. I suspect this is probably left on for my benefit, since I've been known to do my share of guitar strumming and caterwauling - and I do like that kind of stuff.

n CCTV International is probably Cecil's second-most-favorite network. This is sort of a CNN or BBC, only it's all China news all the time. Though it's broadcast in English, its motto is 'Your window on China and the world.'

My father-in-law may be the only Caucasian in the world who would prefer to get his news from the Chinese network.

'I like to watch this one,' he said with a slight grin, pausing in his regular scanning from one station to another. 'Sometimes they have stories on that big dam they're building.'

This is an important insight into his likes and dislikes. A devoted reader of National Geographic, Cecil has been interested in big projects like dams his entire life. He also likes to read about (and talk about) dirigibles, pyramids, mines, levies, big bridges, the Spruce Goose - anything real, actually.

He's also quite capable of talking over your typical nature program to inform you of some bit of animal behavior that the announcer is not going to tell you because, quite honestly, Cecil knows more about these things than the guy talking on television.

n UWTV has to be the most bizarre of Cecil's favorite channels. This is the cable channel for the University of Washington, and he's particularly fond of the medical programming.

'I watched a hip replacement operation on here the other day,' he boasted, as the camera zoomed into a bloody mess on the screen. It took a while to figure out that we were watching a shoulder surgery, apparently for the benefit of UW medical students, while the surgeon calmly explained what he was doing and why.

In no time, a rubber-gloved hand covered in blood picked up a metal rod of some sort and pounded it with a hammer in the other hand, also gloved and also bloody, with all the force of an auto mechanic trying to break loose a stubborn bolt.

'Daaaaaaaaad!' pleaded one of Cecil's daughters, completely grossed out by the blood splattering all over the place on the high-quality Japanese TV.

'What?' he shot back.

'There's a whole room full of people here, and not a single one of us is interested in watching that!' she said.

'Well, don't watch it, then,' he shrugged.

But as soon as that was out of his mouth, he gave his remote a couple of pokes and we were off to South Dakota, where the video auction was still under way.