Friday, April 3, 2009

Television indecision

After weeks of listening to Jerry say things like, "I'd like to break HIS television" because the TV repair guy contracted by our warranty company had made more than one appointment at our house that he didn't keep, John finally showed up and got right down to business.


He didn't smile or make eye contact and even ignored my greeting and partially extended hand, choosing instead to beeline for where Jerry had placed Phillips in the middle of the living room floor in anticipation of his visit.

I don't think he was what either of us had expected.

He was quiet and unassuming -- the type of person who gets swallowed by a busy room. His long gray hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, the tip of which easily reached where his worn belt was threaded through his jeans. And he was at least a foot shorter than both of us.

Jerry quickly swapped a few cables when prompted, and Phillips sprang to life in all of his dysfunctional glory.

"Hmm ... that's interesting."

The crazy that is our family unfolded around him as he attempted to diagnose the problem simply by looking at the mangled screen images. When he bent down to give it a closer look, Toby got to work sniffing his butt while Allison walked over and -- much to my horror -- began curiously stroking his hair like he was part of a petting zoo.

He never reacted or even showed a hint of frustration as I ushered both of them back a few feet and then played body guard.

Not entirely sure what would cause such a rare picture quality, John weighed whether to take Phillips back to his shop where he had more diagnostic tools or simply order the part he thought it needed and come back to install it after the warranty company approved the expense.

Jerry grabbed a measuring tape from our basement when John wondered aloud whether the TV would even fit in his car, then the two worked together to mentally work out the logistics. As they walked out to the spot he had parked in front of our house to get a width on his back seat, I noticed what appeared to be John's wife waiting in the driver's seat.

I thought about offering to invite her in, then decided against it. What little I knew about him told me he was methodical and meticulous. They apparently had a system and the arrangement -- however strange -- obviously worked for them.

Even though they determined it would fit, John eventually decided to order the part.

At that point, my curiosity overpowered my patience.

When I asked him to explain what he thought the problem was, I received a very technical response that seemed to have something to do with replacing an entire circuit board on the right side of the unit that burnt out.

I couldn't help but think that I would've pressed the matter if I was back in my reporting days and had to write a story about his line of work. As a business reporter, there was nothing I hated more than industry types who couldn't express something in a way that everyone could understand. I always enjoyed hearing them fumble for words after I forced them to abandon their jargon.

But I realized this wasn't the time. And I didn't want to piss off the guy who is solely responsible for making our TV work again. Otherwise known as The Holder of Jerry's Happiness.

So I dropped it.

Before he left, John explained that sometimes it takes weeks to get financial approval for the repair, then informed us we could pay upfront to expedite the process and get the refund directly from the company after the fact. The mere mention of that made my pulse quicken because I assumed Jerry would jump at anything that would bring his beloved Phillips back. Pay any price. Climb any mountain. Tackle any challenge. Even drink a gallon of sloth urine if that's what it took.

But much to my relief, he declined. Later, I realized that his hatred for corporate runaround is just about the only thing that trumps his love of that TV.

"Let John deal with the warranty people," he said. "Why should we?"

I could've made out with him on the spot.

The next week, John called about an hour before he stopped in to make the repair. Ironically, we had just been talking about the problem with our neighbor and wondering about the status of our new circuit board.

This time, his wife came in with him and we gave them some space. We had been in the middle of Alli's bedtime routine anyway.

Jerry kept going downstairs under the guise of checking the basketball score of the Penn State game on our now lone TV in the living room. He brought back fidgety updates on their progress, which mostly included details about how they had Phillips laying face-down on the coffee table, completely opened up with a work lamp they brought with them clamped to our coat rack.

"It's like watching open-heart surgery on a loved one," he said.

I, on the other hand, was more than content to fall into bed with a new book.

Jerry woke me up more than an hour later, and it took me a moment to blink back into reality as he mumbled something that seemed important. The light was on, I was still dressed, I very obviously still had my contacts in and the book felt heavy on my chest.

"It didn't work," he said. "They're taking it."

Apparently John would need to get even more work approved, and he warned us that the cost could get to the point where the warranty company may want to cut their losses by cutting us a check.

We ended the night by watching the final minutes of the game as Jerry mused about what might be.

"It's weird rooting for Phillips to die. I mean, if your mom is sick, you can't get a check for a new and better mom if the doctor can't fix her."

"But, in this case, we can!"

I know I should be grateful that we had the foresight to purchase the extended warranty because we obviously needed it, but I can't help rooting for it to be over.

I want a solution. Something. Anything.

Because I'm sick of the static.


Jennifer Suarez said...

I must say, it seems like some of your passion has come back to your writing. It was never gone gone, but before it seemed more stressed and forced. But ever since you considered leaving, then changed your mind, it seems to me that you got some of your happiness back (in the blogging sense).

I'm glad you stuck around because hearing stories like this, so well written that I feel like I'm standing right there, are priceless.

Lioncloud said...

This was written by 1960s comedy icon Alan Sherman. I can't remember what tune it should be sung to:

When your television set breaks down and needs repairing bad,
Lotsa luck, pal, lotsa luck.
You look through the Yellow Pages for an honest-looking ad,
Lotsa luck, pal, lotsa luck.

Then the fellow comes and says your set must go into the shop
And he takes it in his truck.
Four months later he returns it and it's someone else's set
Besides he drops it down the stops, so lotsa luck!

(I was also cruel enough to write this on Jerry's Facebook wall...)

Anonymous said...

well honestly everyone knows plasma tv's are junk and will eventually break. its your own dumb fault for buying one in the first place.

Lioncloud said...

Argh! That's "steps", not "stops" in my little Alan Sherman ditty!

Candi said...

Wow, way to get some sympathy from the anonymous commenters. Aaanyway.

I'd be ready for a check, too! After so long it just becomes too much hassle!

the_plainsman said...

Very Interesting commentary on our "modern world." The manufacturer is out of the picture. An insurer, AKA the warranty company, hires an independent contractor, the repairman, to do the work.

He is no doubt paid on a pro-rata or piecework basis, and no doubt somewhere near the minimum wage or poverty level. No time for niceties with the client. In past decades, he would have been (and likely was) a highly valued and well paid "tekkie" with full benefits. Now he must get approval for every part, and likely if wrong, pays a bit out of his earnings for those errors in returned parts.

If wrong too may times, they cut him loose without a thread. Sounds like these modern times are more like the times of Charles Dickens, and not the rosy cheeked kid side, either. Keep at' it, Jerry!

Kelly, this might be the basis for one of those Pulitzer Prize winning stories, a modern Grapes of Wrath story that editors and reporters die for! Think about it.

the_plainsman said...

Lioncloud! Someone else was a kid back then and remembers him too, those parodies and songs were fun, way before Wierd Al Yankovic. Don't remember that TV repair song though, maybe on You Tube?

Ray said...

First off, I agree with Jennifer. Secondly, may your television troubles be over with soon! ;o)

Janice said...

I hope your TV troubles are over soon. That must be almost painful. I've had my TV for years and years and the speakers are now making the annoying please-let-me-die sound so after this year I'm going to ditch it for a new TV during my senior year of college. Keep us posted!

Lioncloud said...

Plainsman, here's the whole song:

Anonymous said...

Hopefully things are sorted out soon, even if that means Phillips has to become unrepairable.

Kristin said...

the end made me laugh =P


Emily said...

Hope things work out with it! and goood idea with the warranty...I work at best buy and people will come in and spend $700-1,300 on a new flat screen tv and won't get a warranty. baaad idea on their part

SwissBarb said...

^^ I can't for the life of me understand why people would spend so much money on a dumb TV but hey, whatever makes them happy :)