The Six Remotes in Your Dad’s Entertainment Center
• Description: A small clicker that beeps at random intervals, like a dying smoke alarm or a needy app. Only has five buttons, none of which seem to do anything. It’s not an Amazon Fire Stick, but that won’t stop your dad from shouting at it.
• Functionality: Might control the thermostat, but you’re afraid to find out because Mom will go ballistic if the temperature climbs above sixty.
The Gray Ghost
• Description: A rusty bucket of bolts that’s been around since the Clinton Administration. No one has the heart to throw this grizzled vet out, and no one knows how to recycle him.
• Functionality: Previously controlled the karaoke machine in the laundry room, which your siblings used as a regular tape player. Now the Gray Ghost weighs down your crossword puzzles.
The Missing Link
• Description: No one has ever seen the Missing Link, and the photos your dad texts you of remotes that might be it are always too blurry for any sort of positive I.D.
• Functionality: For years, you’ve heard tell of a device that synchs the surround sound to the cable box, and the cable box to the television, and the television to the surround sound, and you to your father. Some say it’s wedged between the couch cushions or smooshed under the dog. Don’t bother looking—your aunt got Lasik, and even she can’t find it.
• Description: This sleek little number materialized on the coffee table like a phaser beamed down from the Enterprise. (It’s from the Sharper Image.) It’s covered in buttons and doodads, no doubt compensating for a lack of basic utility.
• Functionality: Ironically, Benjamin Buttons does not rewind. If you press the “back” button, it restarts whatever you’re streaming so you lose your place—not that your parents mind rewatching the first hundred minutes of “The Post.”
• Description: In pieces.
• Functionality: This delicate device used to control the surround sound. But after being told that he couldn’t watch another “PAW Patrol,” your nephew grabbed the nearest object and fired it at the wall like Aroldis Chapman. Now dialogue comes exclusively from the left speakers, music from the right, and from your head comes a little voice saying that you should have stayed in New York.
• Description: Medium build, nice heft, a reassuring shade of slate. The only remote that’s always in the same place—on the side table by Dad’s chair, next to a tall rum-and-Coke and Daniel Pink’s latest.
• Functionality: If by some miracle you can turn everything on, guess the correct input, find the Missing Link, and synch it all up, the Constant will steer you where you need to go. Which is: back and forth between the game and that Paul Newman movie your mom is really very into. Just don’t expect it to turn off the closed captioning.