In The Nielsen Family Way

I grew up hearing about TV ratings and the Nielsen Family. I figured they were a Scandinavian family from somewhere in Minnesota who watched a lot of TV while polishing their wooden shoes and eating ableskivers. So, when I answered the phone last month and the lady asked if I’d like to help decide the fate of future television viewers and join the Nielsen family, I asked the obvious question. “Will I have to eat lutefisk?” When she replied “No,” I gave her the obvious answer, “Then, yah, you betcha.”

A couple of weeks later we received our TV diaries. Inside the Nielsen package were two one dollar bills: payment for our effort. We’d stumbled upon the only job that paid less than jury duty. The first entry into my diary was, This Nielsen guy must be tighter than Queen Latifa’s waistband. The diary instructions said to call if I had any questions. I called and asked, “Do I have to claim the two bucks on my taxes?”

Lora began earnestly documenting her television viewing and filling out her diary like she was Marcia Brady after her first kiss, but I decided to give them their money’s worth. I mean, I was happy to do it for nothing, but getting paid two dollars was an insult. Also, the thought of being a Nielsen family member turned out to be way more exciting than actually being a Nielsen family member, which is much like being an Alexander family member.

The next day was Sunday; the one morning that Lora cooks me a real breakfast. After six mornings of yogurt and a banana, I really look forward to some grease. While she fried pork sausage and eggs (just writing fried pork makes me drool), I picked up her Nielsen diary and scanned. Project Runway. Flip This House. Iron Chef. Crafts In America. “Yumpin’-Yimminy! This is what you watch?”

Lora poured me some coffee. “You don’t have any idea what my dreams and aspirations are, do you?”

“Let me guess. You want to be a model who owns a restaurant and remodels houses, but still has time to make handmade quilts out of recycled toilet paper and dental floss?”

“Damn, you’re sexy when you’re sarcastic,” she said, though I sensed a smidgeon of mockery.

I thought about all the male TV viewers out there that were counting on me, and picked up one of the other diaries. “Well, I guess I want to be a shortstop who moonlights as a vice detective.”

Lora gave me the stink-eye.

“That’s right, Martha Stewart-ess, and that translates to, ESPN, Cops, ESPN, Cops, ESPN... I can go all night, sister!”

Lora snatched the diary from my hand. “Don’t you dare write anything in these diaries that you haven’t really watched!”

She held my sausage and eggs ransom until I reluctantly agreed, but the competition was on.

I started watching more TV than a hospital patient in traction, and specifically anything that might increase (or appeal to) my testosterone level. I wasn’t going to stop until my palms sprouted hair.

I caught Lora watching What Not To Wear and Trading Spaces, but trumped her with a Dodger game and NFL Live. She kicked it up a notch with Essence Of Emeril and Simply Quilts, but I outflanked her with Bounty Hunter Babes and Tractor Pull USA.

The clincher was when I woke up at 2 am and found Lora in the living room, a Nielsen diary in her lap, watching The Joy Luck Club.

What’s up?” I asked.

“Just a touch of insomnia.”

Insomnia my Aunt Fanny! For 25 years this woman has slept through the night like a baby mainlining warm milk in one arm and chamomile tea in the other. I countered her by turning on the TV in the bedroom and watching a two-hour fishing tournament, which was no easy task. You try staying awake that time of the night while viewing brave men with $30,000 boats equipped with sonar, radar, and GPS, catch 10-inch fishies called crappie.

I realized I was in serious trouble the night I overheard Lora in the living room watching 30 Minute Meals. Rachael Ray was cooking something called couscous. I didn’t have a clue as to what a couscous was, but with my recent testosterone increase, I felt eerily inadequate because I’d never killed, raced, or wrestled one.

By the time our Nielsen diaries were completed, I was exhausted. Lora felt sad. She sent her dollar back to Nielsen. I’m keeping mine. I earned it.