Homeward Bound: Things to Do In Your Free Time

Restaurants are closed to sit-in service. Stores, except for grocery and drug stores, are closed. Movie theaters are shuttered. People are encouraged (or mandated) to stay home apart from going out to forage for food. Sports are cancelled. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are now rescheduled for 2021 (there go the 8K Olympic broadcasts promised for Japan!). ESPN2 this past weekend was even driven to broadcasting hamburger eating and cherry-pit spiting contests!

There’s currently no endgame for all of this. Where are the goalposts? Zero deaths? That’s is not even a goal for the common flu, or for car accidents, both of which kill tens of thousands of Americans each year. Government at all levels is doing its best, but in the end their answers, as always, end with a shake-down of the Money Fairy.

All that said, how do we cope with our personal worries and housebound boredom? I’m lucky enough to work at home, and while the reviewing queue is sparse at the present, a couple of 2020 TVs are expected imminently. But they’ll have to stay packed up for a few days to make sure that no live cooties are still clinging to the boxes! Such is the state of the world in March 2020.

But if you share the same interests as most of us here at Sound & Vision, you don’t have to look far for things to do. Clean out that equipment rack, rearranging things you’ve been promising to do for months (or years) before those dust bunnies behind the cabinet get organized and launch an attack. They can smell fear. Or simply enjoy some tunes or movies. That’s happening a lot these days, even among the general public.

Discs Aplenty
Stocks may be tanking, but if you own shares in Netflix or Amazon you’re golden. And if, like me, you have an extensive collection of CDs, LPs, DVD’s, Blu-rays, and Ultra HD Blu-rays you won’t run out of things to do even if the internet goes down. I’ve just heard that in Europe they’re throttling back some streaming sites from HD to SD, which reduces the needed bandwidth by one-third. Their circuits are overloaded with folks streaming as much entertainment as they can find. No issue for me; if I watch a movie a day from the HD and the few remaining SD (DVD) discs on my shelves I’m good for over three years.

There’s also that pile of HD DVDs I accumulated way back when but haven’t touched in years (though I still have two HD DVD players gathering dust!). I even have a small collection of laserdiscs, though the last time I tried to watch one, just for grins, I was amazed that we once thought they looked fantastic.

YouTube Beckons
I’ve also been streaming a lot of YouTube videos lately as well. The offerings there are impossibly vast, with multiple entries on virtually any subject you can think of and many you can’t imagine. In addition to copious audio/video entries (called channels for some odd reason), I also surf history sites. History has long been one of my passions. It was my best subject in high school but I studied engineering in college. Pay a fortune for someone to teach me something I could easily acquire by reading books on my own didn’t seem financially sensible to me.

But thanks to YouTube I now know a thing or three about ancient Rome that are absent from most history books. For example, ancient Romans were unlikely to make a run on the toilet paper shelves at Trader Cicero’s — something about a sponge on a stick is more than you need to know about how they coped, with or without the plague. And oh yes, I also learned that toilet paper itself is a recent invention, dating back only to the mid 1800’s. By 1900 or so Scott marketed the first splinter-free variety to an eager public.

But there’s more uplifting content on YouTube as well. It remembers your search history well enough to feature items that might specifically interest you on its entry pages. Creepy to be sure, but helpful. I’m interested in many kinds of music, and discovered some symphonic classical performances, in both high quality video and audio, that knocked me out. Most of them originated in Europe, and include not only classical pieces for the full symphony orchestra but also film scores and lighter pop-classic “war horses.” Most of the latter have been overplayed to death but are popular for a reason; they appeal even to music fans who don’t often listen to symphonic music.

Prime examples of this are such works are the 1812 Overture and Scheherazade. With a YouTube search You can find a terrific performance of the latter by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 2005. Check out the final movement, starting at 30.28. It’s so fast it will leave you wondering if the video transfer was sped up! But likely not; the Vienna Philharmonic is frequently rated as one of the best, if not the best, symphony orchestras on the planet. Watching the players successfully coping with the conductor’s breathless pacing is jaw-dropping.

Even if you’re not into this sort of music, or think you’re not, it’s free to try (apart from your internet bill) and worth a little of your currently mandated free time. For another similar search, go Academia Filmu Telewizji. This will bring up a large number of selections (including both classical and film music) from an extremely accomplished youth orchestra. And if you want to try something a little more complex, search for the Frankfurt Radio Symphony’s performance of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony (no.3). If you’re not sure you’ll like it, just listen to the final movement (starts at 30:36) — the only movement that brings in the organ. You won’t be bored.

There may be no better use of (mandated) free time than discovering new things. In any of these selections there’s something intriguing and even enlightening in watching players actually performing symphonic music, particularly in the close-ups that only video can provide. You can’t fully appreciate how much precision and team work goes into an orchestral performance unless you can both hear and see it. Music is called a performance art for a reason.

jeffhenning's picture

I'm in the same position with one thing possibly different: I work from home and live alone in a house that is perfectly sized for a single guy who loves to lift weights, create art & music and have a great sounding home theater in his basement.

This current situation, though, isn't as bad as wearing an ankle monitor (done that for a few months and it was less than fun), but it's not great either.

I've already been working from home as a web designer. I loved starting my workday from home, then pushing a small bit of the iron, clean up and head into Philly for lunch and finish up my day working at a high top before moving over to the bar for happy hour. Did that two or three times a week. Aren't doing that now.

Of course, me being a bit fevered in my cabin (figure of speech) is nothing to all the people who have to file for unemployment compensation with no certain future due to the crisis. In my field, unfortunately, with 80% of it being contract, unemployment is now a regular occurrence in my life. I know the pain.

I was homeless for 3 months in 2015. I hit a rough patch, employment-wise, during that previous year and was evicted in the fall. A couple days before having to check into a homeless shelter, I got a call to freelance at a NYC ad agency making a fantastic hourly wage. That got me out of the hole.

But, in that process, I lost my vinyl collection (luckily, I was doing hi-res digital before that), most of my audio equipment and about 90% of everything else I owned. I had a week to put everything that I couldn't replace in storage. I'd sold anything of real value on Ebay or CraigsList prior to this. It truly sucked.

Before two years was over, I was back to living my life mostly like it never happened.

So, yes, having a great TV and a surround system that includes a Emotiva XMC-1 pre/pro, five KEF LS50's and four Rythmik servo subs is a bit of a tonic for the soul, but it doesn't save anyone's life.

As the death toll climbs and people's lives are decimated and lost, my thought is this: with this article, you are actually whistling while walking past the graveyard.

Please, do not do another one of these articles...for your own sakes.

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls..."

Billy's picture

I am in healthcare, can't stay home, wish I could. Imagine the boredom if this had been 40 years ago? Prob not even VHS tapes to pass the time. If most people have to stay home, this is the golden age to do it. I know, many are very (justifiably so) worried about finances, but lets hope Uncle Sam (or whoever you got) takes care of you and you just have to hunker down and be safe and alive. I can not stress this enough, guys this is serious stuff! I don't care what crazy Uncle Donald says, this is a killer, the likes we haven't seen for over a century.(why we are not prepared is for another discussion after this over, and we DO have to have this discussion because many things need to change in America) Those of us on the front lines are scared, we see what this has done. Yes, mostly elderly and firmed people, but the number of young healthy people very sick or dead is shocking. Do whatever you need to do to keep your family and neighbors safe. If that means six months watching TV, learning a new language online, so be it. The risks to our society is too great. DO NOT let some talking head on Fox News sway you, money is not as important as life itself, in the end, that will self right (with the proper government policies) (Heck, my idea, put all fiscal obligations on hold for as long as it takes, months I guess. No rent, no car payments, no mortgages. NO INTEREST either. After it is done, all restarts like it was March, no penalties. Everyone, from Bill Gates to me is in the same boat, nothing lost or gained, except time. That is my fix for the economy so we can stop this craziness about lifting restrictions next week, just so rich dudes can go back to becoming even richer. No doubt, as they force their employees to work and risk health, they are far away and safe.) Sooo, fire up the TV, curl up with a good book, relax, reconnect with your family. Is that really so bad? All of us risking our lives to try to save people would be grateful to have far less people to care for, plus we wouldn't go through our ever dwindling supplies of protective gear that tries to keep us safe as well.

jeffhenning's picture

My long-winded thought was that light-hearted, puff pieces about what to do during a crisis weren't appropriate.

As to the political rhetoric, I decided not to even start.

The only thing I can really fault you on is being almost as lazy a writer like Michener & Faulkner not using paragraphs and your lack-lustre use of punctuation is not good.

How dare you, sir!

Billy's picture

Politics aside, if you start coughing up blood, you are going to come in and see someone like me expecting a miracle. Will there be resources? Too many people think that things are fine, will always be fine, in for heck of a shock. Punctuation? Never heard of it. I guess 8 years+ of college wasn't enough. Sorry, my first day off in a great long time and I am a little testy.

jeffhenning's picture

Take it with some grace. I understand and agree with you. Just so you know, again Michener and Hill never used punctation in their manuscripts. the editors added that

Just saying that's its a bit easier to read when you compose like we learned as kids. That's all.

funambulistic's picture

... As this really is not the place nor time.

I was just curious, Billy - how old are you? Your question, "Imagine the boredom if this had been 40 years ago?" begs the question I asked. 40 years ago we, well, read amongst other things. Heck, I was quarantined with double pneumonia when I was 15 (around 40 years ago) for a couple weeks and I read, played music or board games, solved puzzles, watched TV and I survived no worse for the wear. I would imagine people 40 years before that (and 40 years before that, etc.) were fine as well. It is almost unthinkable now, but 40 years ago when people had to wait (in line, in a "waiting room" or whatever) we... waited. Without phones. It was not that hard to do.

Billy's picture

In 1980 I was just finishing up college, so yes, I am old as the hills. I have seen a few sunrises and sunsets. All I was saying is that today there are far more stay at home entertainment options then 40 years ago. In 1980 my parents had a 17 inch black and white TV with three channels on it, but only if the signal was good. I didn't even have a TV myself. Those were different days indeed. We did have a lot of books to go back and read again, but many people did not. Today, there is little excuse to say you have no entertainment options when stuck at home. I wonder how well young people today, used to modern times, would do then in our situation? I believe that was what you were getting at. Stay safe my friend. I am due back at my job, say a little prayer for us.

drny's picture

Thankfully, I'm still on the job. My beloved is home.
I suspect for many stuck at home, you still only have 4-6 hours to watch NEWS (Covid-19 of course), movies and shows. Your better half and the kids will keep you plenty busy. I can hear it now: "honey, now that your home, please take care of....; and the never ending: "dad, I'm so bored".

yowlzz's picture

I mean, did someone actually just spend time writing an article basically saying we can watch/listen to physical media and YouTube?