It’s Always Fun, Until...

While the hobby of home theater may seem benign, it’s not without danger. How much danger? Experts tend to peg its level of potential hazard as being somewhere between that of stamp collecting—in which nothing whatsoever happens at any time and so the risk is quite low—and emu farming, where the chance of having your carotid artery flayed open by a razor-sharp spur is ever present. With home theater, the risks are somewhat more hidden but no less dangerous. If there are individuals who have somehow managed to flay open their carotid arteries in their home theaters, it probably went unreported. I know if it were me, I’d want my family to buy an emu and blame it on him to spare them the shame. To help you avoid the pitfalls, I’ve compiled this list of common home theater ailments.

• Upgrade Fever: A deep, all-consuming fear that somewhere there exists a component that is, at least in some infinitesimally small way, better than the one you currently own. While this affliction commonly sets in after some months, its onset has been known to occur some 30 seconds after you unbox the component. When you’re in its grip, the idea that the component is inferior will grow until, in your mind, it’s not only substandard but actively harmful. Soon, you’ll blame all the world’s ills on an A/V receiver that lacks a certain, possibly never-used, surround sound format. You might come to refer to your aging center-channel speaker as Hitler and might accidentally bump into it with your 9-iron. The condition can be exacerbated when well intentioned family members make comments like, “Why in the heck do we need another one of those black things? Didn’t you just buy one for yourself as an Arbor Day present?”

Should you find yourself in the grips of Upgrade Fever, there are several things you can do. First, think back to what made you fall in love with the component in the first place. Recall the good times, when the spark between the two of you was still there. If you have photos of those happy times, flip through them, preferably while you sit in your underwear clutching a bottle of Four Roses bourbon (hey, desperate times, and all). But be aware that none of these techniques will do anything whatsoever to help. The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Junk the offending component and buy a new one.

• Neighbor Envy: This particularly stubborn and egregious disease occurs precisely at the moment when you discover that the perpetually shirtless moron who lives next door to you, the one who started up his wood chipper during your daughter’s backyard First Communion picnic, has a home theater that is in some way superior to yours. While it’s similar to Upgrade Fever, Neighbor Envy has even more devastating potential, especially if the neighbor in question is particularly undeserving. Which, of course, he is. Severity of symptoms is directly and exponentially proportional to the superiority of his equipment. A monitor that is even 1 inch larger than yours will cause distress, while one that is 6 or more inches larger is apt to cause nausea, vomiting, and blurred vision.

There is no cure for Neighbor Envy, although relief can be obtained by pitching any dead crows retrieved from your gutters into that hot tub he’s so proud of.

• Tweak’s Disease: A Tweak’s Disease sufferer is easy to spot, as the longest uninterrupted span he’s spent actually enjoying his home theater is 11.6 seconds. He spends the rest of his time and energy putting wooden pucks under his components, replacing his copper-stranded speaker wire with nitrogen-cooled diamond filaments insulated with a special leather harvested from rare New World monkeys, and occasionally rushing out to buy green magic markers and vibration-proof underpants. If any doubt remains, you can pose a simple diagnostic statement, something along the lines of, “I notice you’re not using antimagnetic wallpaper. That’s brave.” If he grabs his car keys and rushes out the door, the diagnosis is positive.

• Torquemada’s Complaint: Named for the Spanish Inquisition’s self-starting, gung-ho Grand Inquistor, the sufferer of this dread affliction lures friends into his home theater with promises of beer, wine, sparkling mineral water, and possibly stuffed mushrooms, only to hold them hostage and extract confessions. “There! Did you hear that rumble there? That had to be 25 hertz. Have you ever heard anything so cool?” If his guests answers no, he simply withholds refreshments and repeats the clip and the question until he gets the answer he wants. He then moves on to another clip. No amount of, “Well, we’d better get going. I just remembered I left the hose on. And I’d stuffed the hose into our mail slot for reasons too complicated to go into. Soo...” will dissuade him. Should you find yourself entrapped by a sufferer of this affliction, excuse yourself to the bathroom, shatter the window with a decorative soap (he won’t hear the noise over the rumbling), and make your escape.

• Trance Bottom: This disease is characterized by a loss of feeling in the buttocks and lower extremities brought about by marathon Blu-ray viewing sessions. Sufferers are often impervious to the very sensible pleadings of loved ones that they, “For the love of God, pause Transporter 3 and get dressed. It’s your sister’s wedding!” or “Come to dinner! You haven’t had a non-Cheetos-based meal in more than 76 hours!” To the victim, the quality of the material makes little difference, so long as the picture and sound are up to snuff. Therefore, he will bring himself to the brink of paralysis watching such questionable fare as The Matrix Revolutions and Celine Dion: A New Day Live in Las Vegas. The only surefire way to rescue the victim is to cut power to the house.

This is a partial list of ailments. I will update it as I come down with more of them.