THINGS first began spiraling out of control when I arrived home to find the TV repairman's van in my driveway.
"Dear God," I whispered, "please let this guy be fooling around with my wife. Please don't let him be here on business."
Unfortunately, after bursting in the front door, my worst fears were confirmed.
Instead of finding empty wine glasses on the coffee table and two people locked in a passionate embrace, the repairman was bent over the back of the TV.
"This is Frank," my wife said. "Of Frank's TV Repair."
Frank grunted something from behind a maze of gleaming circuitry. Instinctively, I reached for my checkbook and began filling in the words "Three-hundred and . . ." on the line marked "Amount."
"Power surge," reported Frank grimly. "Doesn't look good."
This, of course, came as no big surprise. Never once has a repairman examined my TV, beamed and said: "No big deal -- just a little dust in the wiring."
Instead, each visit has been a major crisis, with the repairman hinting broadly that were it not for his consummate knowledge of electronics, many hours of his valuable time and hundreds of dollars worth of expensive equipment, we could, for all intents and purposes, throw the TV off a cliff.
Quickly my wife filled me in on the ugly events that had transpired earlier.
Apparently the kids had been watching cartoons when the lights suddenly dimmed and the TV picture went black.
Of course, this threw the kids into the same sort of hand-wringing frenzy that the ancient Aztecs experienced during a solar eclipse.
For one thing, it meant the kids might actually have to read a book. Or work on a puzzle. Or play outside. Or, God forbid, get an early start on their homework for Monday.
When the enormity of their situation had sunk in, the children had leaped bug-eyed to their feet, taken the stairs two at a time and burst into the kitchen, wailing at their mother to do something.
She, in turn, had gone to the Yellow Pages and found the ad for Frank's TV Repair. Curiously, the ad did not depict a man with a bandanna over his face jabbing a handgun into the gut of a frightened customer with his hands held high, which would seem to be a natural for a TV repairman.
In any event, the whole business was so unnerving that I had to leave the house. I decided to run my car through the car wash, thinking that perhaps the bumper-to-bumper weekend traffic and the sound of piercing car horns and snarling motorists would calm me.
The car emerged from the wash sparkling clean. It looked like a million bucks, or as close to that figure as a 12-year-old Toyota with massive rust spots can get.
Yet as clean as the car was, there was . . . something different about it.
For several minutes, I studied the car, playing "What's Wrong With This Picture?"
Then it hit me: The side-view mirror was missing. When I reported this development to the 18-year-old parole violator running the car wash, he seemed confused. It took several seconds for him to process the information through the haze of a monstrous hangover.
"Well," he said at last, "that happens every once in a while."
"Tell me," I said, "what does your fine operation do when a side-view mirror is eaten by the brushes?"
"We let you vacuum your car for free," he said brightly.
It was certainly a magnanimous gesture. The sign overhead indicated that the car vacuum cost 50 cents.
"You know," the kid added, "you don't really need a side-view mirror."
"Well," I said, "I probably don't really need brakes either. I guess I could just sort of fling the car door open at 60 mph and drag my foot along the highway, sort of like how Fred Flintstone does it in the cartoons. But think about what that does to your shoes.
"Anyway, call me Mr. Cautious, but I feel better occasionally glancing in the side-view mirror as I change lanes. Maybe that way I won't sideswipe a chemical tanker loaded with deadly methane and set off a towering fireball on the expressway that's visible for 20 miles in either direction."
When I returned home, Frank of Frank's TV Repair was placing his tool box in his van. He seemed in a wonderful mood. The damage, he said, was not nearly as great as he'd feared. The bill had come to "only" $175.
This news lifted my spirits somewhat, and while I was not in quite as good a mood as Frank was, the day seemed considerably brighter.
Plus there was that 50-cent rebate we had coming at the car wash.