Last night My Life’s Editor and I settled into our couch in our TV room to watch Mr. Djokovic play Mr. Zverev in the US Open semi-final. I sat back, she laid out lengthwise on the couch and plopped her feet on my lap, in foot rub mode. Foot rubs get my contract renewed each year. I pressed the small white button next to “Cable” on the Universal Remote and we had a picture (there is a green button saying “On”, but it does not actually turn anything on.) Mr. Djokovic appeared on the screen, ready to serve, bouncing the ball, glowering. But there was no thump, thump sound. No sound at all. We could not hear Mr. McEnroe opine (even though this could be considered a blessing). We could not even change the channels with the remote to send Mr. Djokovic away, opting for re-runs of Dr. Phil.
Three televisions, two remotes and a Sonos bar along, our media experience has been a walkabout in probability theory, the theory being that something will probably not work at some time. The electrician who designed and installed our system admitted defeat two years ago and no longer takes responsibility for paternity. We see him occasionally holding court at a local bistro on his breaks, swilling lattes. He avoids our eyes. We had to bring in a hired gun to set things right, a media systems whisperer. His initials are pinned on the text screen of my cell phone.
In childhood the answer to any failure of an electronic item in my family’s life – toaster, radio, lamp – was to look to see if it was plugged in. Maybe the vacuum cleaner had bonked the plug. Reinsert plug or fetch a new light bulb from the laundry room and voila, we had toast, music, light etc. Last night, trying to get sound, I craned my neck, peering into the dark space behind the wall-mounted Sony TV, and strained to unplug the two power cords I saw there. I knocked my glasses askew, swore, and left the plugs unplugged, dangling. After several minutes, I returned to the scene of the crime, groped for the receptacle in the dark, and reinserted the two plugs, fitting the fat prongs in the fat prong holes. As any child today past the diaper wetting stage knows, to get something electronic to work, you start by unplugging, then re-plug to reboot. Each time something goes awry with our media system, everyone must be reintroduced. The various bits of the system must say howdy, exchange addresses, shake hands and get back on speaking terms again.
To impress My Life’s Editor, I hand-printed and Scotch-taped labels to identify the black boxes blinking and glowing in our media stack: router, modem, cable box, receiver, etc. My father the General returned from a tour in Korea in the ‘60s with the latest in Hi-Fi plunder available from the Post Exchange and a seven-foot-tall carved wooden cabinet to contain it all. He was competent in organizing masses of young men with weapons. As for Hi-Fi systems, not so much. He had operating instructions typed up on 3 x 5 cards for each component (“#1, Push green button to turn on …”). He added his name and address with a Dymo marker lest a burglar with a forklift cart off the 300-lb mausoleum of electronic goodies in the night. He did know how to fit his favorite cassette into the cassette player, Billy Joe Cyrus playing Achy Breaky Heart.
My ancestral line did not provide much in the way of technological genes. My ancestors were Highland Scots. They went about in rough cloaks and kilts with no underwear, raised sheep and lived in stone-walled huts with thatched roofs. The womenfolk boiled oats and diced sheep entrails for haggis and the menfolk sat about and sharpened their knives. A fully dressed clansman had a claymore sword for battle, a dirk in his belt for personal disputes and a dagger in his sock just in case. They were not much about improving domestic arrangements, advancing life’s amenities. My clan was the Clan MacGregor. They originally hung about near the river Orchy but got chucked out because of a dispute with a landlord, something about poaching the landlord’s deer. They also murdered the king’s forester, who had hanged a couple of MacGregors for poaching, but who is perfect? MacGregors fought each other, fought neighboring clans, and fought the English. When things got slow, they got into the rent-a-clan business, renting themselves out to other clans looking for an assist in punching up a neighboring clan. In 1617, the Scottish Parliament, having had it with the rambunctious MacGregors, banished the clan’s name, at which point my particular line went to earth under the name Magruder. My grandfather, General “Bagpipes” Magruder, a cavalryman and subsequently a Chieftain of the American Clan Gregor, chased Pancho Villa around the Rio Grande under the command of “Black Jack” Pershing. I still have his sporran; my grandfather’s, that is, not Pancho Villa’s.
One of my ancestors, had he been alive today, would have accosted the electrician who installed our media system, told him where he could shove his latte, marched him up to our condo at dirk point and said, “Fix the system, laddie, or I’ll mince your liver for haggis!” I don’t think he would have done foot rubs.