Television set stars in its own two-part drama and whodunit

March 25, 2000|By Rob Kasper

THE KITCHEN television was in two pieces. This was not normal.

When I had gone to bed, the set had been in one piece. By breakfast the next morning, it had been torn asunder.

My wife claimed to know nothing about the cleft television set. But she did have a fresh damage report on the dishware front. A coffee cup had been broken, in the basement. She hatched a theory: An intruder had entered our home, taken the TV apart, broken a coffee cup and vanished in the night.

I had another theory. A creature of the night had ventured into the basement searching for tools to take the TV apart, and while fumbling had kayoed the cup.

I had a suspect: one of our teen-agers. As anyone who lives with them knows, teen-agers are nocturnal beings. They come, they go, they forage and entertain themselves in the dark of night, long after their parents have gone to bed.

Theoretically, two teen-agers reside in our home, but this was spring break, when teen-agers are free from the rigor of rising in the morning and attending school. During spring break home attendance is sporadic. Teen-agers sleep in the homes of friends. They travel. They rarely appear in daylight, and then only during the "p.m." parts of the day.

A good way to keep track of their nocturnal movements, I have found, is to eat breakfast in the kitchen while examining the debris the teen-agers have left there in their wake. As I sip my morning coffee I often examine their pizza leavings, tally the number of shoes scattered on the floor and count the number of plastic carrying cases sitting on the TV, a rough (never precise) measure of how many rented movies are now somewhere in our home. From this material you can usually calculate what teen-agers have eaten recently, how many of them are sleeping in your home and what movies they watched.

I was going through this teen-ager tracking routine the other morning when I spotted the severed TV set. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something else unusual: a screwdriver that had strayed from my workbench. Like many dads, when I see one of my tools in a "foreign" setting, I start to worry. Usually a stray tool is a sign that some member of the family has recently attempted an "unauthorized home repair," one I knew nothing about. In my experience, unauthorized home repairs have a way of becoming major repairs, projects that consume many hours and dollars.

Sure enough, when the older teen-ager emerged from his lair, I heard his tale of the VCR and the night repairman. This TV has a built-in VCR. The teen-ager had been playing a German movie on the unit. But when the movie ended, the tape would not eject. It was kaput. So to get the tape out of the TV/VCR unit, the teen-ager had taken the chassis apart with the screwdriver.

Once he pulled open the chassis, he freed the tape. But, like Humpty Dumpty and all the kings men, he couldn't get the thing back together again.

So, one evening when I got home from work, the teen-ager and I placed the severed set on the kitchen table and tried to heal the fissure. It was one of those classic parent-child scenes. I was the boss, trying to teach the kid something, but I wasn't sure what. The kid was my assistant. He held a SnakeLight in one hand and a piece of pizza in the other, and was hoping this painful ordeal would soon end.

After about half an hour of frustrating, neck-craning work with a pair of tweezers and a screwdriver, we got the set back together.

When the power went on, the set winked, shifted itself into a Spanish language mode, then snapped off. The unit that had frozen after playing a German movie was now communicating only in Spanish, and only for a short period of time. It flashed about 30 seconds worth of Spanish, then the screen went black. After several attempts to rectify the situation, I gave up, or as Roberto Duran, a Spanish-speaking boxer, once said when he tossed in the towel: "No mas."

Now the unit sits in a Fells Point repair shop, awaiting a verdict on its fate. If it can be economically returned to its normal, English-speaking state, I will be happy to have it back in our home. I am not so sure I can say the same about the tool-toting teen-ager.

He told me he was proud of himself for taking the TV apart. I am glad the kid showed some initiative on the home-repair front. I am also glad he was able to find a screwdriver, even if he wasn't able to put it back on my workbench.

But I hope this saga of separation has taught the kid the lesson that all would-be repairmen eventually discover. Namely, taking something apart is easy; putting it back together is not.

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