Thursday, January 19, 2006

3 Hours

Afternoons at work are always at least a little crazy. It could be busy, it could be slow, but I'm always aware of the time, and of how much is left until the day is over. If nobody calls, the time drags by. All the morning's emails are done, nothing much is gonna come in that way. The seconds drop in slow motion, like the flappy clock number in Groundhog Day.

Some days my wife even stands outside my office door for the last 15 minutes of the day, yelling, "Don't answer that!" if the phone rings. But I've gotta.

And so each phone call after 4:00 carries with it the pressing question, "How long is this gonna take?" I had a lady call the other day, for example, at about 4:10. Safe zone, right? Wrong. She talked for over an hour, asking the same questions over and over again, and then arguing with me about my answers.

Every day is an adventure, if you define adventure as, "Will I be able to get off the phone before my wife starts yelling up the stairs?"

The other day, in the middle of this afternoon craziness, I got this email:
Come down when you can. I think the TV is burned out or something.

Great. Sure enough, as soon as I opened my door, I smelled something awful. Nobody was running around screaming, so there was (probably) no active fire, but it was obvious that all was not well, electronics-wise, in the 4boy house.

It smelled worst in the TV room (which we used to try to call the Family room, but who are we kidding?), so the first thing we did was open some windows. Next came The Test. Being cautions in a kind of weird way that doesn't' actually pay off, I asked my wife to get the fire extinguisher, just in case.

After showing her how to use it, I turned on the TV. Nothing exploded, which I took as a good sign. When the picture came up , it was static-y and weird and confined to the upper third of the screen. Dead TV.

"Can you fix it?" asked my wife.


"Can we get it fixed?"

Now, I get this question all day long at work. Some of the stuff we sell and support comes with electronic parts. And they break after a few years of hard use. People call me all the time and ask if we will fix them. We don't make these things, and fixing them would probably involve sending them back to the slave labor prisoner camps in the far east where they were made, so our usual response is that it costs more to fix it than to buy a new one.

Most people are okay with this, but some aren't, and I have to explain the costs involved of shipping stuff to us, us shipping it to a repair person, having the repair person look at it, possibly fix it (possibly not), and then shipping it back. Lots of money involved, especially considering the repair person charges by the hour whether it's fixed or not. And it might not even work, etc.

Long story short, I've got some experience in this argument.



I could see gears whirring over there. This is a hard decision, and yet it's a fight in which I have no dog. What few shows I watch can be bought on iTunes. My wife, on the other hand . . . to put it bluntly, it's her TV. I only have to make viewing decisions when she's not home, and I'm usually doing something else anyway. If the electronic mind-beast has died, I will weep and move on. But we were only 30 minutes into TV-lessness, and she was already twitching.

This was taking a while. I tried a different tack. "We can either get a new TV, try to fix this one, or go without. With either of the last two, you're going to miss your shows tonight." I didn't know what was on that night, but odds on there was something she wanted to see.

Bingo. She picked up the phone and called a friend. "Can you tape House for me? Ok, thanks."

Before we resume our conversation, let me note what was not happening. None of the kids were weeping, mourning the loss of the box. They were happily playing elsewhere in the house. Now, I may not be what you'd call a good parent, but my children weren't hurling themselves at the entertainment center to appease the electron gods to return their life's joy. So I felt a little better.

One more time. "I can check prices and see what we're looking at to replace it."

"Ok," she said, and we went our separate ways.

Now I was stuck. I had never, ever bought a TV in my whole life. When I went away to college there were always roommates' TV's, and then I inherited a pretty nice one from my grandmother. That one got replaced when my parents bought one for us the Christmas after Timothy was born. And that was the TV that had just died. Clueless, I checked Amazon. No good. Shipping on TV's is crazy expensive.

I emailed some friends and asked for help. One suggested Costco, but they only sold uber-TV's. Another said Best Buy might be good. Both said to avoid Wal-Mart. That had been first on my list, so I scratched it off.

A few more work calls interrupted my searching, and then it was 5:00. Go-time. There was some spirited discussion of which kids were going to karate and which ones were going to join me in my quest. When the dust settled, the Fellowship of the Whatever included Timothy and Jonah.

By this time, it had become common knowledge that the TV was dead. Jonah could not have cared less. He had gotten a Chicken Little fleece hat that day from a Pop Tarts mail-in (see, a benefit to having square cookies for breakfast), and all he wanted to do was wear it and run around. Timothy was another matter.

"Will we be able to watch our shows?" he asked with a concerned look. "Yes," I said, "as soon as we get another TV we will be able to watch it again." "But will it have our shows?" Ah. I had misunderstood the question. I tried to explain that the TV didn't have anything to do with which shows we got, but I must not have done a good job, because he repeated the same question several more times that night.

With wisdom steering us clear of Wal-Mart, our quest had to begin with the perilous, undercity of the Sears scratch-n-dent store (okay, I'll stop). We love the S&D. It's just down the street and has great stuff. We've bought a dishwasher and a refrigerator there. So in we went.

Timothy, my little nerdling, immediately went to the most expensive TV there: a plasma HD thingamabob that hung on the wall. "Can we get this?" No. "What about for my room?" No. "What about this one?" he asked, crossing the room to what turned out to be the second most expensive one in the whole store. The boy has instincts.

Jonah wanted to touch everything. TV's, fridges, stoves, dishwashers, all received the loving hand of the thirdborn. I had to pull him out of a dryer at one point.

My limit was $250, haggled up from an initial cap of $200 after research proved that the only things under that price were either smaller than 20" or powered by hamsters. Nothing in the S&D was under $600. Before trekking back out in the rain, I meekly asked if they had anything . . . well, smaller. After informing me that Jonah had put his new hat into a microwave oven (it wasn't plugged in), she pointed me to a little repair shop at the other end of the building. We thanked her, retrieved the hat, and walked through the Easter Island landscape of hundreds of brushed nickel appliances.

The "repair shop" turned out to be a miniature Sears store, sans clothing. Lots of refurbished tools, including chainsaws and lawnmowers (which may come in handy the next time Entropy rears its ugly but inevitable head; it's the law, after all). Lots of "normal" sized TV's, including one that matched our criteria: known brand (unknowns tend to be fronts for sweatshops run by power mad generals who smoke too much, laugh evilly and keep harems of not-quite attractive women, or so one of my electronics advisors told me; the TV's also tend to break sooner), similar size (in this case, 27"), and under our cap.

The picture was fuzzy, and when Timothy found out that this was the prime candidate, he tried to direct me to the nicest (and most expensive) TV in this end of the store. The salesman, and later a manager, assured me that the picture fuzzyness was due to the way they had spliced the cable, etc. I was satisfied; Timothy wasn't. Then I showed him a lathe, and he was happy.

It turned out that the floor model was the only one left, and there was no box. They did have the manual and remote, and they would be happy to bubble-wrap it. For $180, I said that would be just fine. Timothy was not amused. "Will it have our shows in it?" Yes.

In spite of the urgings by an impressive customer service manager, it took 3 Sears S&D employees about 15 minutes to wrap the TV. Miraculously, it fit into the front seat of my car, and we were on our way home. "Will it play our shows?" Yes, I explained, the shows come from the satellite box, not from the TV itself. This got suspicious looks from my eldest son.

We got it home, removed Old Stinky to the garage, plugged the new one in, and showed Mr. Empirical that his shows were, indeed, "in there." He was happy. My wife was happy with the price, I'm happy with the size and the picture quality. All this by 7:30. Total TV down time: 3 hours.

A friend (hi Mark!) came over last night and we played PS2 games on it. He brought over a S-cable connector, and it looks fantastic like that. The Incredibles look even more incredible, and Timesplitters 3 is just super amazing. I'm getting one of those.


Post a Comment

<< Home