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Today I was lucky enough to have a service call at the "Penderson" residence. Now, before I go into the gory details of the Penderson abode, let me preface my comments by describing (briefly) some of the nastier places I've visited in my 15+ years of serving (on-site) the American public:
credit given to original author if known
- The public housing projects in New Brunswick, NJ
- Single-wide redneck trailers in Oildale, CA, replete with vicious mutts chained to a steel pole in the front yard.
- The stuffy, filthy, dismal lair of introverted adults living in their mother's guest room.
- Ramshackle huts baking in the Mojave desert.
- Dark, cramped, putrid apartments lorded over by home-bound fat people who like to talk a lot.
- Tiny houses cluttered to the ceiling with the disheveled papers of an unmedicated obsessive/compulsive loon.
- Gang-filled motel-style apartments in roach-ridden east LA.
These are just highlights of my illustrious career; frozen moments of loathing and terror that have made me the misanthropic cynic I am today. I can say with some certainty that I am one of the few people who has seen every face of American culture - up close. Unlike plumbers, who usually see only a few homes a week, and then only homes that can afford a plumber, and mailmen, who rarely go inside a home, I am among an elite few (cable Guys, appliance techs) who sees 4-8 American homes every day, 5 days a week.
Do the math: if we figure conservatively that I've visited 4 homes a day, that's about 14,000 homes that I've endured. Fourteen fuckin' thousand. Demographers and marketers like VB often consider 1,000 random contacts to be a wide enough sampling to formulate numbers for insurance agencies, Arbitron ratings and national ad campaigns.
Thus, I can say with some authority that I know what the American people are like, and that I can describe for you the medians, means and averages of any facet of the American people you could possibly want to know. Armchair Anthropologist is not without ammunition, my good friends. Of course, I can also describe the extremes.
Let talk about extremes, shall we?
I've been to homes the likes of which you people can only dream. I've seen indoor Olympic swimming pools whose towel-off areas lead to arched ceilings soaring gracefully above Edwardian grand pianos and Italian leather divans. I've seen garages laden with Porsches and Silver Clouds and gleaming red Ferraris. I've seen private ferries that tie off to bollards next to 85' yachts. I've seen master bedrooms that dwarf your goddamn house.
And then again, I've been to the Penderson's.
It's a bumpy ride into the hinterlands of Stanwood, Washington. You go right, then left, then follow a washboard goat-path past a llama farm. As you curve inexorably eastward, the cedars and firs thicken sharply, leaving you in a damp, dreary third-growth forest. Muddy lanes lead off to anonymous rusty trailers nestled deep in the mossy flora. The occasional discarded pick-up truck and tombstone washing machine jump out from the roadside, and neighborhood pets can be seen slinking through the thickets in search of wild game.
As I wound down the goat path, I caught sight of the address that was described on the work order -- #27318. I had been warned about the Penderson place. The other techs called it "the worst pit in the region, bar none." The guy who was out there previously told me he could only stay in there long enough to glance at the picture, order a new CRT, then run screaming for the van. And now I, the New Guy, had to install the CRT - a two hour job at best, maybe ninety minutes if I worked feverishly.
I pulled into the yard, around a tired cedar. Three huge, wooly, *filthy* dogs came barking at my tailpipe. I shut off the van and surveyed the situation. It was a single-wide trailer, relatively new, maybe ten years; nonetheless, it was horribly unkempt and time-worn. Moss and mildew attacked every surface. The front steps had long ago rotted and now swayed dangerously on their moorings.
Behind the trailer was another smaller, older trailer, now engulfed in overgrown weeds. Its windows were smashed and filled with cardboard and plywood. One could see that the growth had already infiltrated the metal box, and through a rear window you could see boxes and detritus piled ceiling-high.
I prayed to Satan that the smaller trailer was abandoned and that I would entering the merely filthy hovel that bowed sadly before me. I sized up the dogs that howled and barked at my van door. They were pussies. Ragged and dirty, but big pussies. I stepped out boldly and kept my eyes looking just ahead of them, asking them where their Mama was and whether they thought they were tough.
They sniffed indecorously at my crotch and ass, following me closely to the front door. Their fur was shaggy and terribly dirty, and they smelled awful.
Little did I know...
I clambered up the mushy steps and knocked on the aluminum screen door. It was opened by an elderly hag flanked by four or five more huge, filthy dogs. She was about 70, with matted gray hair and wearing only a stained pink bathrobe. Her face was dotted with huge black moles and growths, and she needed to squint to see me right in front of her. She told me to "just not mind the dogs", and beckoned me inside.
That's when I got hit with it.
The odor and heat hit me all at once. It was like being smashed across the bridge of the nose with a baseball bat that had been shoved up Paul Ess' ass then dragged through a barn full of wet dog hair. It was a palpable stench that one could actually *taste*. As I stepped inside, I closed off my nostrils and felt an involuntary shiver cause my head to shake nervously.
The place was fucking pig sty. Discarded food and garbage and papers and clothes and half-chewed dog biscuits lay everywhere. The carpet was completely covered in a thick layer of dog hair and actually *squished* underfoot from the urine. All seven or eight dogs were now inside with us, slinking around and hunting through the mess for a quick snack. The electric heat was cranked up high, turning the whole mess into a living, churning wonderland of steamy excresis.
I breathed in again, through my nose. The smell was so wretched, so foul, so *close*, I felt the instant Urge to Purge. I swallowed down hard. My eyes watered. My head cocked. My hand gripped and gripped again on my toolbag.
Ms. Penderson began talking to her dogs. "Leave the man alone, Pepper! He doesn't want to talk to you! Sit down, Prince! You too, Purty! Sit down now! Leave the man alone!"
My head spun. Two hours of this? Not for seventeen bucks an hour, bub. No way. What do I do?
I surveyed the situation. The TV was a 25" wooden console set, weighing in at about 150 pounds. Normally, I consider these sets immovable and do repairs, even CRT replacements, on-site in whatever room they reside. But as the wrenching torment of dog shit, piss, cigarettes and filthy old hag armpits enveloped my nostrils, I made a bold move.
"Ms. Penderson? Changing the CRT requires a lot of space and your living room is just a bit too cramped. I'm gonna work on it outside."
"Really? Can you move it?"
"Oh, sure. No problem!"
I'd keep my job - for now. I pulled open the doors, glancing longingly at the fresh air outside. The TV would fit through easily.
The Scumdogs of the Universe followed me as I grunted and pushed the TV toward the door, sucking in lungfuls of fetid stench with every effort. Eventually, I made it to the rotted front stoop. Obviously, the stairs would not endure having a console TV and a six-foot (devilishly handsome) TV tech on them at once.
I stomped around the garbage strewn all over the overgrown lawn. One, two wet slimy planks. They'll do nicely.
I positioned them over the two rotten steps then slid the TV on. To my astonishment, the TV had wheels - they were just inoperable on that thick, wet carpet of dog hair.
The TV slid down onto the gravel drive. I pulled a furniture blanket from the van and laid the TV on its face. The fresh air (fresh by comparison only) invigorated me. I opened up the set, received another temporary wash of smelly dog pee/poo from the interior, then started dissecting the set.
The old tube came out, the new one went in, the electronics were reinstalled and wiring dressed. I stood the set back up on its feet and looked at it. There I was, like a blue jean Adonis, standing proudly in front of a 12 year old RCA parked curiously in the gravel drive of a filthy hovel. The whole scene could have been ripped from a Diane Arbus retrospective.
Now I had a problem. The tube was in, but needed to be aligned. Alignment can be detailed and time-consuming. Doing it inside would mean 30-60 minutes of precision work in the bowels of Hell. Not for seventeen bucks an hour...
I looked around. The side of the trailer had two plastic-sheathed electrical outlets. And I had a thirty foot thick-gauge extension cord. In two minutes I had the TV fired up right there in the driveway. I retrieved my portable test pattern generator box and plugged it in.
That was when God shit on me.
The picture was an IWQ color bar - but it was rolling, tearing and all messed up. Useless for any alignment procedures. I stuck my head inside the TV. Horizontal sync? Vertical hold? Maybe a supply problem? How about sync buffers? Maybe the tuner was touchy. I looked. I tapped. I twisted. I tightened. Nothing. No help.
I was *fucked*. The set was now requiring some truly technical repair - and rain had begun to fall.
I raised my fist at the sky.
"You bastards! You vile, hateful bastards! You can't shit on me like this! You can't make me endure this! I'll QUIT! You hear me? Quit! I could work full-time for the paper! I'll eat Top Raman and live with roommates! I'll whore myself out doing computer advice for old people! I'll wear a goddamn Burger King uniform! But I WILL NOT go back in that house for sixty fucking minutes! YOU BASTARDS!"
It was then that a thought occurred to me - maybe it was...HOLY SHIT!
I RIPPED the pattern generator and stuck some solder in the antenna jack. The TV picked up channel 12 - snowy, weak - but with LOCKED IN SYNC.
My damn test equipment was tits up! The TV was fine!
But still...what could I do? I can't align tilt, azimuth, purity, convergence, gray scale and color temperature with a snowy channel 12! And still, the falling rain...
I needed a solid, static pattern. Fast. Like maybe a VCR paused on a recording of QVC. Or...the channel guide on a digital satellite box.
Guess what Ms. Penderson watches? Yup! The Dish Network.
I stuck my head inside the door, holding my breath. The satellite box was about twelve feet from the door. The TV was ten feet outside the door. I needed a 22 foot cable drop. NO PROBLEM.
I opened up the van and reached for my nearly-full coil of RG-6. Which wasn't there. Because some ASSHOLE at work had 'borrowed it' JUST YESTERDAY to throw a forty foot drop at his house for the goddamned kid's room.
Oh, sure. He'd bring it back. But not today!
My mind swirled! I fumed! I fussed! I agonized! I wept bitterly!
There was no escape. I had no choice. I surrendered. My career is a failure; I may as well resign myself to the fact that all my experience and expertise in this field is worth all of seventeen bucks an hour. I'm a hack. A good hack, but a hack. And that's all I'll ever be.
I pushed the TV back up the slimy planks and into the livingroom. As the Hell-Hounds sniffed and urinated and Ms. Penderson cackled like a demented shrew, I mournfully muscled the set back into its worn tracks on the dewy carpet. The stench went into my nose, washed over my brain and infected my very soul. Every inch of me smelled the rank bouquet of defeat.
I plugged in the satellite box and turned on the guide. The display was tilted, horribly impure and unconverged. As the rankness pulled me in, melting me away until I was one with that horrid carpet, I made a terrifying discovery: the goddamn purity/convergence rings were MISSING. GONE.
In their place was a magnetic tape that some HACK had jammed in there as a quick fix because he had broken the purity rings on a previous CRT alignment. I ran outside to get air and survey the old tube. Sure enough - the old tube had magnetic dots taped all over it to make up for the unadjustable "purity tape".
It would take me FOREVER to align this tube. Without the rings, I'd be in there for well over an hour maybe several.
No. No. NO. NO. NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I jumped into the van and made a cel call (thank SATAN I was in roaming range!) to a parts warehouse. Yes indeedy, they have the ring kit. I ordered one up.
Oh, sure. I get to leave now. But it also means I'd be COMING BACK.
I stepped inside one more time. With a long, thin screwdriver I made the fastest qwickie CRT rough-in in world history. Within 60 seconds I had the tilt locked, the purity iffy and the gray scale almost perfect. I turned up the controls and explained to the demented hag that another part was on order to fix her TV all the way.
She immediately began pointing to every blob of impure color, asking me to "Fix it! Fix it!"
My patience was gone - gone; into the carpet that haunted me like a nightmare demon - gone; into the eyes of those decrepit mutts that pissed and shat where they ate like madmen in Bedlam - gone; into the yellow-brown soup that thickened the interior of that shithole like a gaseous poltergeist from a sewage plant.
"UNTIL I GET THAT PART, THE PICTURE IS GONNA LOOK FUNNY. PERIOD. WE'LL BE BACK IN A WEEK. BYE."
Out I went. I gathered up my tools and sped off. The smell still clung to me (and did until I showered just a few hours ago). My next call was in the clean, well-kept home an elderly amputee widow (right hand). She had the EXACT SAME model of RCA TV. It needed a 200V supply cap and good kick in the ass, and it was tip-top in twenty minutes. She was kind to me, but kept her distance as we settled up the bill.
As I drove off, I realized that I STUNK.
Well, maybe it's not me.
Maybe it's just my goddamn lot in life.