It is always the picture tube. That is the First Great Truth of Life. (The Second Great Truth is: It is always the carburetor. But that's another story.)
Call any TV repair shop if you don't believe me.
"The wood veneer is coming off the top of my set," you say.
"It's the picture tube," the guy will say.
"Really? How can that be?"
"Well, the tube swells up with argon gas, see, and it, uh, pushes out the sides of the set and, uh, pops off the veneer," he says.
"Oh. So I guess I need a new picture tube, right?" you ask.
"Yup," he says.
My TV set lasted six years before the picture tube went. I had purchased it from a friend who owned an appliance store (the Third Great Truth of Life is: It is always better not to have friends who own appliance stores), and when I complained to him, he told me that six years was very, very long for a TV set.
"What lasts longer than six years?" he said. "A hammer maybe. Everything else goes in less than six."
In Olden Times, when the TV set went out, you could go to a Tube Tester. These were little machines with all sorts of sockets in them. They usually had pictures on them of happy families testing their tubes together -- families in those days knew how to have fun -- and the idea was that you could fix your own TV set.
I know what some people are saying: He's crazy! Nobody could fix their own TV set!
But it was true. Back in Olden Times, when TVs were made out of tubes instead of transistors and circuit boards, you could take the tubes out, put them in a paper sack, take them down to the Tube Tester, plug them in and test them one by one.
Of course you couldn't test the picture tube. It was too big. But the problem rarely was the picture tube.
It usually was some other, littler tube. And you could buy a replacement for a dollar or less.
Now, you can find Tube Testers only in antique shops and the Smithsonian Institution. And, now, the problem is always the picture tube.
This is called progress.
OK, so your TV breaks. In the Semi-Olden Times, say about 10 years ago, when your TV broke, you could pick it up and take it to the TV store and have them look at it.
You cannot do this today. Today, TVs weigh as much as grand pianos and are only slightly smaller. Sometimes the manufacturers will stick a handle on top and call it a "portable," but it still weighs around 600 pounds.
I own a 25-inch TV, which is considered about average today. You can get them much bigger. I only bought one that big because my friend who owns the appliance store said the difference in price between the 21-inch and the 25-inch model wasn't much.
"And if you buy the 25-incher, I'll throw in the platform," he said.
Platform? I said. Do you mean a TV cart?
He laughed. "You can't get these big suckers on a cart," he said. "Oh, they make carts. But the set weighs about as much as a refrigerator and so the wheels don't turn real good. No, these babies have platforms. They just sit there."
And that's where my TV sat. On a platform. And it worked fine for six years. Then a few weeks ago, the picture began turning pink. I fiddled with the color knobs -- though I knew the Fourth Great Truth of Life: If you fiddle with the color knobs even a little, the picture will never be good again -- and the picture got worse. Then the focus began to go.
So I called a TV repair shop.
"Picture tube," the guy said.
Wait a second, I said. I haven't even told you about the problem yet.
"Oh," he said, "Sorry. Go ahead."
Well, the picture is kind of pink and . . .
"Picture tube," he said.
It's amazing how you know that, I said.
"Well, we do go to school," he said.
He told me that for him to come out to my house would cost $40. Then it would cost me another $20 for him to look at the set and say "picture tube" again.
So how much for a new picture tube? I asked.
He looked it up. "That would be $381 for the tube and $129 for the labor," he said.
Wow, I said. And how long would that picture tube be guaranteed for?
"Two years," he said.
Just two years! I said.
"That's very, very long for a picture tube," he said. "What lasts longer than two years? A hammer maybe."
I told him I would think about it and call him back. But when I added up the figures, I reached the Fifth Great Truth of Life: It is cheaper to buy a new one.
OK, fine. But how was I supposed to get rid of the old one? Forget about leaving it out in the alley. Greenpeace will surround your house with helicopters and threaten to kill you unless you find an environmentally suitable place to dispose of your TV set.
Sure, some communities have one day designated each month as "Huge Objects That You Don't Know What To Do With Day" and they will pick up your set from the curb.
But how do you get it to the curb? Hire four guys to carry it there? Build a special ramp with ball bearings and slide the set there?
I asked around and finally found a friend who had come up with the perfect solution: Buy a new set and put it right next to the
old, broken set.
"I've got six so far," he told me. "And when I get four more, I'm going to lay some plywood over them."
And then what? I asked.
"Then I will have achieved the Sixth Great Truth of Life," he said. "No matter how bad something gets, you can always make a pingpong table out of it."