© December 29, 2012
Being 62, to me a toggle switch or a cell phone represent the length and breadth of my technological expertise. Younger people who make fun of that limitation would also probably ridicule a dog because it couldn’t fly. Must the dog defend itself? How?
On the other hand, what I lack in contemporary understanding of I-Phones, texting or chat rooms, I make up for with dogged persistence. There’s that dog again.
My beautiful wife Joyce and I respond to perplexing quandaries differently. She views an evidently unsolvable situation as a specific punishment from God aimed at her, and therefore she must accept that ruling.
I, however, even though being one of the Chosen People, don’t actually have a hotline to Heaven, and I see big problems as resolvable with a combination of steady patience and reducing the tangled mass of the problem into little digestible pieces. Here is a vivid example of such an incident.
Chanukah came in November this year, 2012, and though chronically short of funds, I was able to scrape together enough dollars to buy a 42” flat screen TV on sale at a very cheap price after months of hunting for just that. It was made by a very obscure electronics company, probably imported from Mongolia. My theory was that since I could only afford one gift, why not buy something that was the right size and color for all three of us? The third person is my delightful daughter Sarah, now sixteen. She would have rather had a car…any car…but that wasn’t in the cards for her this year.
So, our little electronic assembly now consisted of a strange-looking, vertical, silver colored device we received from AT&T’s U-Verse division in order to make our TV work and an ancient DVD/video player because we have 100 cassettes of all the Disney classics, they work just fine and our grandchildren are transfixed by those movies, plus that big, wide, skinny new TV. So, fine.
Joyce, being far better able than I am at following complicated instructions—she can use a sewing machine and program the TV clicker—read the little booklet provided so she could correctly attach the two cables provided to both the TV and the old movie player. The cables were the standard gold-tipped type with a long copper wire sheathed in black rubber and both ends had a single pin that connected most devices made long ago and still today. Everything worked. I knew they all would because Joy can even program our microwave, so what the hell, right? No surprises there.
Except for one.
The TV was bright and clear, movies were easy to watch on it and so were the endless MASH reruns that Joyce adores. Each piece of the troika worked exactly as they should. But we weren’t working exactly as we used to. Turns out, big screen TV’s always advertise the beauty of their spectacular pictures but not their tiny sound contained within them. Neither Joyce nor I have the same ability to hear neither the top nor the bottom of the common range of audio. Getting older has its problems and hearing aids were prohibitively expensive. We were stuck with what was effectively a moving painting on the wall because of our physical limitations. Always something.
John Wayne in Rio Bravo, to me, was increasingly colorful gestures in pantomime and gunshots were mere puffs of smoke. I wanted to hear him call some wet behind the ears Eastern wagon train sodbuster a “pilgrim!” again, in that one-of-a-kind voice of his.
But then some unexpected gifts of money arrived in the mail from a couple of places and we decided that a newfangled sound bar was the solution. With it, we knew, we could adjust both the treble and the bass to our needs. I shopped. And shopped. And shopped. Chanukah was long since history and Christmas (a slightly bigger holiday in America) caused a zillion Chicago merchants to battle with each other for customers’ cash by slashing their prices for all sorts of things, like sound bars, for instance. I found one that fit the money on hand and I went to buy it.
But the place that had it, a large store with a good reputation, was out of the one I saw advertised and the salesman offered me a better brand (he said) at a slightly higher price, and since I knew that overall it was a better deal, in fact, I agreed to take it. It was the last one they had, so I bought the display model. It too had a booklet in several languages, one of which seemed to be Tibetan. No matter, Joyce would handle it.
We unwrapped it and she studied the instructions. It seemed very simple. She attached the sound bar to the U-Verse receiver because both had a receptacle for the one very thin and odd-looking connecting cable provided for that purpose. The ends were rubbery and unlike anything either of us was familiar with. But the TV sound came out better than ever and we decided that we were done now and had all we needed with our little quartet of machines to entertain all three of us.
When I came home from work, I wanted to watch a video, but when I placed it in our vintage video player, the audio was like before we bought the new sound bar. I couldn’t hear much of it and was annoyed, so I went to see Joyce in the bedroom where she was reading. She could fix it. Must be some glitch in connections or something.
But even twenty-four hours later, she still couldn’t change the situation. The skinny sound bar cable had no acceptable receptacle in the old video player nor the very new flat TV screen. It only would connect the U-Verse box to itself. Why was that?
Joyce yelled at me in her exasperation with the situation, since she now assumed God was punishing her for something that was actually my fault, in her eyes. I left our house in search of an answer. The odyssey began.
Tightly grasping my mysterious rubbery cable, I went to a local small electronics store (no names in this story) to see what could be done, figuring this was nothing at all to them to resolve. But the response I received from the young clerk there, after he saw my cable, was that my video player was so old I needed to buy an updated one that would work with the exotic new cable from the sound bar. We looked online and saw the least expensive player was $89.95, but only if I bought it online with a credit card.
Aside from the fact that I felt that price was way too much for me, I stated flatly that I don’t buy anything online. People hack into computers and steal all the numbers. The young clerk stifled a smile and told me that millions buy things online, as if I had just arrived from a primordial forest and never knew that. I responded, politely, telling the smart-assed pre-schooler that those were exactly the people who got screwed, but not me.
I left the store and decided to try another national chain electronic store where long ago I’d bought my DVD/Video player, cheaply. This place, cavernous and almost completely filled with things I didn’t comprehend, had a video department and I went there, found a person in his thirties who was very well informed and much nicer to me than the first clerk. With age comes wisdom, and respect, I hoped.
After hearing me out and examining my cable, he quickly told me that my video player wasn’t the problem. All I needed was a converter that allowed the sound bar to plug directly into the flat screen TV. There had to be a port somewhere on the TV. He told me that I didn’t need to plug anything into the U-Verse device or my video player, because if the sound bar was connected to the TV, all sounds from any other source would automatically go through the sound bar.
This new information was a revelation to me. It was so clear. So simple. I was imagining how Moses felt when that amazing burning bush began talking to him in the barren wilderness. Pharaoh, let my sound bar go!
The next day, I called the place where I originally bought the TV, since now the U-verse and video players were no longer suspects in this mystery. I located my salesman, laid out the problem and he said of course they had a converter for that situation and to come in and he’d get it for me. He also told me the correct place to plug in the converted cable-end on the left side of my flat TV. But his store was miles away. Miles. I went after work, in a snowstorm. I was starting to forget my original motivation. An hour later, I pulled into their parking lot.
This place was a Mecca for electronics but—surprise!!—they had no converter that would work for me. He was so sorry I’d traveled all that way for nothing. Me, too. I quietly seethed. I was thinking plagues upon his house. Locusts. Boils. Water turning to blood…when the remorseful salesman suggested I try their equally huge competition two blocks down the street. Turning the other cheek, I thanked him, walked out into the slush and snow and slowly trudged two blocks to the superstore. This trip would not be for nothing after all, I mumbled to myself through chilled blue lips.
But busy giant store Number Two didn’t have it either, and the frazzled clerk I eventually cornered wasn’t initially familiar with the fiber-optic connecting cable. That was so encouraging to me. He looked online, found it for a few dollars on Amazon and suggested I buy it that way. I smiled and held my tongue. He then suggested another local branch of the same small electronic store I originally went to, and carefully gave me vivid directions. I thanked him and left. I was Diogenes searching for an honest clerk. Was there no honest clerk? Lord, why do you torture me?
Following the last clerk’s instructions perfectly, I slid slowly along in the snow and traffic until I came upon the exact place he told me to go to. But there was no store there. Not Sodom. Not Gomorrah. Not even a pillar of salt. I drove on, remembering yet another branch of this same store, miles away, but also closer to my home.
I reached the store barely ten minutes before closing time, opened the door, stomping the dirty icy slush off of my boots, found a single clerk working there who was perhaps forty-five, but also ornery, impatient and antagonized with my simple request and he didn’t have the damn cable converter either.
But then, in his incomprehensible to me fit of pique, he revealed to me that the skinny cable I clutched in my frozen hand was fairly recent technology that used fiber optics instead of copper as a superior way to transmit audio and video, but it never caught on, sort of like Beta cassettes never made it either, and most manufacturers didn’t provide a place in their various new machines for the odd-shaped rubbery cable ends to plug into. He subtly suggested that the sound bar clerk, sensing my lack of awareness about this fact, was unloading an unpopular sound bar on me.
I felt a dawning come upon me, a parting of the storm clouds and wisdom befell me. I saw the light and it wasn’t fluorescent, either. I now knew that the problem wasn’t the U-verse thing, not the old video player and not the new flat screen TV which worked perfectly. It was the damned, spawn of the devil sound bar!!
The next morning, I called the phone number on my receipt from the sound bar store and asked for the manager. As someone who has owned and operated retail stores all of my life, I know how to effectively complain.
Always keep your voice low and reasonable. Compliment the wonderful store where you were initially screwed at to the person you are speaking to. Be certain that person is not twelve and actually is someone in that store’s hierarchy who can effect change. Never say a single insulting word and do not allow that person to dismiss you or your problem as not their problem. Persist and persist and persist. Politely.
After clawing my way up the ladder from person to person, thanking each wrong person in turn for their thoughtfulness and assistance, I arrived at the person standing on the glass ceiling, looking down, loftily.
Repeating my fascinating tale for the tenth time, I decided to go for a Hail Mary pass, even though I don’t actually know the meaning of that strange phrase. But I have faith, obviously, that you, my Readers, will.
I told Mr. Big about my travels leading me to him, how much I liked his store, his salesman and even his wife and children. That I was a repeat customer, as he could easily verify if he looked up my name on his computer, and that, I, too, operated a retail store. I therefore, was very aware that it was important to mollify an unhappy person so as not to lose them as a customer. Goodwill is very hard to restore, once lost. And now, I was that unhappy person…to him.
I told him, slowly, politely, that I wanted that converter, didn’t care where he found it, I wanted it delivered directly to me because I was damn sure I wasn’t coming to pick it up. A wise man, he agreed.
At no point did I cast any negative doubts about the subversive character of the salesman who sold me the one-of-a-kind sound bar with the Martian electronics. That never works and I was already on a roll. So, I returned to the concept of goodwill, how valuable it is and how tired I was from dragging myself across the universe to find that single missing piece of this cosmic puzzle.
I then suggested he include a store credit as compensation for my grief along with the converter, and with his long experience and sound judgment, he could decide how much my troubles were worth in order for him to retain me as a valued customer. He said he would do exactly that. Because he knew, and he knew I also knew, that he himself worked for yet another person above him in his large company, and if I continued to remain unhappy that I was certain to find out who that person was.
I wished him a happy new year and he wished me the same. We hung up. This conversation happened one day ago. I know the correct cable converter is on the way, I have no idea what the store credit will be and I’m not concerned about that. My journey has ended, I have learned far more than I could have ever imagined about my four complicated and interconnected entertainment machines, that my understanding about all of them is surprisingly pleasing and empowering and that very soon I can not only see John Wayne in Rio Bravo on my shiny new TV, but I’ll also be able to hear him snarl in True Grit: “Fill yer hand, you son-of-a-bitch!
Thus endith my tale, fellow searchers of enlightenment. Amen.
About the writer and his other life in Skokie, Illinois:
Bob Katzman’s Magazine Museum: 100,000 periodicals back to 1576!
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4906 Oakton St. (8000 north and 4900 west) Skokie, Ill 60077
(847)677-9444 Mon-Fri: 10 am to 5 pm / Weekends: 10 am to 2 pm
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Katzman’s online non-fiction stories: www.DifferentSlants.com
Poetry? For me, writing poetry is not an option.
It’s a response to emotion. Like cigarette smoke,
it’s fast-flowing, shapeless and with little time to capture it.
Writing poetry in an imperative. I say what I feel compelled to say.
I sell my five published books via mail order and accept major credit cards.
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I’m also available for hire to read my true Chicago stories to organizations
and answer all questions. I autograph my books when I sell them.
I am currently seeking an agent to do more readings.
Feel free to call me at the number above.