Like clockwork, and always right before something great was about to come on one of the three channels that were out there, the television would go on the fritz. No amount of aluminum foil on the antennas or adjusting the horizontal hold was going to fix it.
The repairman would come over and he'd always be some guy my family knew, although for the life of me I don't ever remember my parents having friends over and we never went to anyone's house. How we knew these guys on a first name basis is still a mystery to me and always will be.
But he'd come around lugging a giant suitcase rivaling the size of our television cabinet and pull out tube after tube and systematically "trial and error" them until one magically turned our black and white behemoth on again.
There'd be some exchange of money and we'd all converge back around the set, me on the floor right up close enough to get a good megawatt dose of electronic exposure (I was, after all, the family-designated remote control) but back then we were oblivious to the perils of such things...and such things probably made us much stronger anyway. Yes, Nietzsche probably owned a really big television as a kid.
Then one day the television didn't work and to save a buck...as heaven knows how much it cost for a TV house call back then, my father decided he'd try a new angle. A newfangled machine was at the local "Two Guys" department store...and when I say "local" I mean a good 45-minute drive. All stores in Jersey were a good 45-minute drive away. I swear no one ever lived close to anything there...going to the grocery store was pretty much an all-day event...so when we'd pile into the car to go to "Two Guys", well it was akin to an expedition to the Himalayas...we'd be gone for hours. Hours to a kid is like days to a grown-up...and as usual, no drive would be complete without my sister and I asking the never-ending series of "Are we there yet?"'s.
"Are we there yet?" my sister would eventually ask.
"No." my father would grumble back.
Ever the smartass, I'd quip, "How about NOW?" two minutes later.
In another two minutes, I'd do it again. Antics such as these are why my father invented such "awe-inspiring" games such as "For every Volvo you see I'll give you a nickel. For every red Volvo, you'll get a quarter."
Now, I don't know about you, but back in my childhood, a quarter was a big deal. I never got an allowance so the value of a coin, any silver coin...was astronomical to me. It didn't matter much to me that in 1967 they probably sold 11,000 Volvos in the whole country...and probably only 10 were in the state of New Jersey. There was serious money to be had and all questioning of when we were getting there ceased. 'Hell, take the long way around, Dad. Go on the Turnpike!'
But, we'd end up at our destination in no time after that - and I'd be no richer.
And back in those carefree days of my youth, you were given free reign in the stores. Sure, I'd start out with my mother...but I'd go off and always manage to get lost and found again -- and this time was no exception. Only this time I was going with my father.
He had an assortment of tubes he plucked haphazardly from the back of the television set and standing right smack in the middle of the store -- was an amazing thing. A thing I'd never seen before. A tube tester.
It was wonderful. It had lights and I think it made a slight buzzing sound...and a set of needles would go to and fro when you placed a tube on one of two metal discs that shone like...well, like shiny quarters. The buzzing would raise in pitch and I believe some clicking noises were involved somehow. This indeed was something special - I knew it was. My father let me place a tube on one of the discs. Like magic, the needles flicked. I got to do it again. And again. Some tubes made them flick with lightning speed into the green and some just slightly budged as if in a slow-motion sequence on television itself.
Then it, like the "Volvo game", ended all too soon. We packed all the tubes back up and walked away from it; the buzz getting fainter and fainter with each step.
Oh, it was all too much...the allure of the machine beckoned me to come back to it. As soon as I was left to my own devices, I found my way back over...probably through my astute hearing...honing in on the buzz like a bee back to the hive.
I carried out the motions exactly as my father did: Flip the switch on. Check. Needles spiking left to right and back down again. Check. Tubes? Hmmmm...what can I do?? I have no tubes! Fingers. I have fingers! Left index finger on the left shiny disc...right index finger on the right shiny di...
"Oh, what the HELL!"
I swear to God I was zapped with enough wattage to power up two electric chairs. I was thrown back about 10 feet and if there would've been a weight-bearing pillar in back of me I would have been knocked unconscious for sure. In fact I'm not sure that I WASN'T knocked unconscious. All I know is that my fingers, hand, arm and pretty much the whole side of me was numb and tingling.
I got up and ran off.
"Where were you? We were looking all over the place. What were you doing all this time?" my mother half-chidingly inquired.
Well, it wasn't like I could really tell her I was zapped within an inch of my life and was probably unconscious for the last half hour. I envisioned the loudspeaker lady blurting out, "Clean-up in aisle 7!" Nah...best I keep this little incident all to myself.
And it's nothing that a couple orange-flavoured St. Joseph Baby Aspirins couldn't cure when I got home...ah, the good old-fashioned taste treat from my youth.
It's not like they could kill you or anything like the tube tester...
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