Some folks, including some neighbors of mine off Walker Road in Great Falls, do not like satellite dishes. In extreme cases, they seek to smite them. They consider dishes high-tech blemishes, oversized electronic Tupperware plates entirely out of place in a neatly manicured upscale suburban neighborhood. I learned as much after attending a "get-acquainted" party a few weeks after moving to the area from New York. I got acquainted with the anti-dish crowd in a hurry.
"You've caused some discontent," a man said firmly. "Some people -- some people right in this room -- aren't too happy about that thing in your yard."
"This is really not the kind of neighborhood in which one would expect to find a satellite dish."
A few weeks later, I received an anonymous letter directing me to take the satellite antenna crisis to the neighborhood association architectural review board. I did not respond; the subdivision covenant does not bar antennas of any kind. Besides, they are legal in Fairfax County, and the Supreme Court itself has upheld my right to use them.
And so the dish continues to sit, silent, unperturbable, partly obscured by summer foliage, occasionally swiveling from horizon to horizon, searching for the miniature broadcast stations that we call satellites.
What to do about my unhappy neighbors? I have given this matter careful thought. For example, I could try painting a happy face on the dish, to go with a sign that says: "Have a Nice Day." Or I could pull my pink flamingos and Lawn Boy jockeys out of storage, and create something of a diversion on the front yard.
No, my BirdsEye No. 34780 seven-foot dual receiver spun-aluminum solid parabolic earth station uplink satellite dish must speak for itself -- which means it is time to raise the high-tech space-video consciousness of my neighbors. Aside from its obvious aesthetic beauty -- the futuristic tilt of the system, the rakish angle of the collector, the seductive curves of the receiver itself -- the dish, quite simply, is a wonderment.
A satellite antenna is a space ship. It connects us to exotic $150 million satellite transmitters that hover 22,400 miles above the Earth in geosynchronistic orbit. I may never get to outer space, but with a satellite receiver, I'm there, dashing from Galaxy I to Satcom F3, from Telstar to Westar, from Spacenet to Anik.
If the technology is astonishing, the practical use is out of this world. I remember the night Herb Bradley of Potomac Satellite fine-tuned our satellite system, and we fired it up for the first time. Click! A Canadian newscaster warned of 40-below temperatures in the Yukon. Click! A wild-eyed preacher began to weep during the sermon, started talking in tongues, and collapsed on the stage. Click! A famous anchorman tells his producer: "I'm sitting out here with no audio, no video and no information. You better go right up that director's nose!" (I took a professional interest in this exchange -- the producer was a former colleague).
In short, I am your everyday basic satellite- dish-crazed person. I use "birds" at work; they amaze me. I use them at home; they amaze me. More than an IRS writeoff, more than a source of free movies, more even than Nirvana for an information junkie, the satellite system represents a window -- or keyhole -- thrown open to a country I had forgotten existed. America is a very strange and exciting and outlandish place. My dish takes me there.
So what I'm saying is this: I am truly sorry some people object to my satellite dish. But if those objecting to satellite systems knew what I knew, saw what I saw, heard what I heard, Great Falls would turn into a gigantic antenna farm. Mark Twain would love the dish. So would Damon Runyon. Satellite dishes are very American.