Whether or not this is a true story
does not matter- it is both instructive and funny, especially if you catch the
import of the closing statement. Electronics magazines from the era of repairable
entertainment electronics devices like radios, television, and phonographs often
carried stories of the woes experienced by servicemen. Tales of in-home work were
the most interesting, especially when the homeowner tried to bilk the poor technician
out of paying or accusing him of purposely inflating the bill with unneeded parts
and service charges. This 1941 issue of Radio News magazine is a good example
of how frustrating the business could be.
by Lee Sheldon, Chicago, Illinois
Don't inject yourself into your customer's arguments!
We had been getting plenty of calls lately, but for some reason, I had been
muffing them. The customers, as far as I could tell, were the same sort we had always
had, and the sets had the same things wrong with them; but when I gave a price -
blooey! - about fifty per-cent of them wouldn't let me take the sets to the shop.
Al pointed out that such calls were not only a waste of time, but also were actually
harmful to our reputation; every incompleted contact we made, whether money changed
hands or not, resulted in hard feelings, and was evidence of something wrong with
our professional machinery.
I countered by telling him there were bound to be periods of void in anyone's
career. Willie Hoppe, for instance, after running six points in a three-cushion
match, followed his minor miracle by eight innings during which he scored nothing
- but he was Champion, none the less. Authors experience barren periods, during
which no matter how hard the Muse is mauled - they produce nothing. In the lull,
they are often forced to fill in with some real work. Even the sun is sometimes
Although I had Bronx-cheered Al's ideas of my defection, I was privately worried.
As I drove to Johnson's house to repair their Atwater Kent, I determined to get
the job, no matter what means I had to employ.
Two women - Mrs. Johnson and her sister-in-law - showed me to the living room
and sat in opposite corners while I examined the set. I noticed with satisfaction
that all the tubes were lit, and as I was unbolting the chassis, Mrs. Johnson asked,
"What's wrong with it?"
"I don't know yet," I replied, stalling for time. I wanted to know just how the
ground lay before I committed myself.
In about three minutes Mrs. Johnson turned to the other woman and asked, coldly,
"Well, Eileen - why don't you ask him?"
Eileen cleared her throat nervously and spoke to me. I welcomed the interruption
because it gave me time to think.
"Does it hurt," she asked, nervously, "to plug a vacuum cleaner into the same
outlet the set is connected to?"
So that was it! The rig had broken down while she was cleaning the room, and
the other was blaming her for the trouble! Well, I thought to myself, here's where
I cinch the job by throwing a scare into them.
"It's not good practice," I replied, "although the set is not always damaged
as a result. Tell me - was the set playing while you used the cleaner?"
I stared at her intently, and she dropped her head.
"Yes," she admitted.
"Oh-oh I" I said. "Well, that's too bad. It's a sad state of affairs when a dealer
can't warn you about such things when you buy a set!"
Eileen swallowed a couple of times, but did not raise her head. I turned to Mrs.
Johnson, who was sitting there, burning quietly.
"Filter condensers are probably shot," I told her. "Cost you around seven fifty."
"I certainly won't pay for it," she said, daggering Eileen with her eyes.
"Isn't it your set?" I asked, sensing trouble.
"Of course it is," she replied, "but why should I pay when she caused the damage
Eileen spoke as if she was about to cry.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but I haven't got seven dollars and fifty cents - you
know I haven't, Mary."
"I know I've stood about as much of your foolishness in this house as I am able,"
Mrs. Johnson snapped. "Just you wait until I tell Henry about this tonight!"
Neither paid any attention to me. I stood by, waiting for them to get their dirty
linen in off the line.
"Now, Mary," Eileen pleaded, with a breaking voice, "you know I try very hard
to fit into the family as usefully as possible. It's only till I get a job that
I must live with you-"
"Only?" screamed Mrs. Johnson, jumping up from her chair. "Eighteen months,"
she said to me, "and she calls it only!" She strode to the door. "If I've got anything
to say in this house, you'll be out of it by tomorrow night. I'm going to tell Henry
about that trip to Chinatown, too!" she added, slamming the door.
Eileen pushed her face into a handkerchief and cried with everything she had.
How the hell did I get into a thing like this? I wondered. Eileen was broke,
so there was no use to try to do business with her - even if I waited until after
the storm; and Mrs. Johnson - who, judging from the upstairs sounds, was rearranging
the bedroom furniture with her foot - was a poor prospect, at best. I replaced the
chassis and left the house without even finding out what happened in Chinatown.
Al, of course, knew exactly where I'd made my mistake, and wasn't a bit bashful
about telling me so.
"Listen, Dracula," he said, using that annoying tone he affects when he begins
to shake a finger at me, "you shouldn't have started the argument by blaming anyone
for the breakdown. When a serviceman enters a house, he is somewhat like a doctor-"
"Comparisons are odorous," I interrupted.
"If the doctors can stand them, so can you," he continued. "Both servicemen and
doctors are called into homes to restore happiness and health - not to make people
miserable. Those who pay your living trust in your ability to help; and - since
they do, is it unreasonable that you should respect their feelings? Why are you
staring at me like that?"
"I've never noticed it before," I replied, "but your ears stand out at right
angles to your head when you get mad. Have you-"
"It was entirely your fault you lost that job," my partner persisted. "Instead
of pretending a customer is at fault, it would be better to stretch your ethics
a bit and play down the customer who really was to blame. Don't forget you're in
his house to help, no harass!"
When Al gets going on a train of thought, he's like a locomotive; I can't stop
him, but sometimes I am able to switch him so that he runs out of steam on another
line. I knew he was wrong, but I got him talking about something else before the
argument got really serious. I knew that, sooner or later, I'd come across a job
that would prove me right beyond fear of contradiction.
The following evening I worked on a set that I decided to use in proving my point.
The job was a General Electric super-het; its owner and his wife sat reading their
papers as I examined it.
The original fault was a gassy '80, as was obvious from its color. To make sure
nothing else was wrong in the voltage supply, I replaced it with a good one - with
the volume control turned way down, so the music wouldn't blare out - and everything
The beautiful part of the job was that someone had obviously been fooling with
the set after the '80 went west. The trimmers were all bent, and the threads had
been stripped by whoever tried to get fancy with a screwdriver. There was a nice
long rip in the speaker cone - fresh, and man-made; and I wrung my hands and smiled
an evil smile (mentally, of course) as I stood up to break the sad news. Someone
in the family had a guilty conscience, and - believe me - they were going to pay
Just when I was about to break the news, a 14-year-old boy came in. When he saw
me, he stopped, looked frightened, and sat on the edge of a straight-backed chair.
There was my victim!
Knowing I held all the cards, I cleared my throat and announced confidently
"Mr. Haley, your set is in a deplorable condition. It will cost thirteen dollars
to repair it!"
The man lowered his paper and looked at his wife. She gave him some sort of signal,
and he replied:
"Sorry, but we can't afford it. What makes it so expensive?"
Well, he was asking for it. I glanced at the boy; he was actually pale. A person
couldn't help feeling sorry for him, thinking of what his parents would do after
I'd sold him down the river.
"The original -" I replied, glancing at the boy again, who was so filled with
fright it began to spill from his eyes.
"The - er - that is, it needs an overhaul," I stammered. "Yes, that's it - an
overhaul. Some small tuning condensers have worn out; a couple of tubes should be
replaced; and the speaker cone has - uh - warped sorta."
"Do such things occur by themselves?" the woman asked, looking at the boy suspiciously.
"Surely," I lied. "All old sets should be overhauled. It stands to reason, like."
I felt the job slipping further away.
"Mother!" the boy interrupted, "If you and Dad each pay five dollars, I'll chip
in three from the money I'm saving for my bike. I think we should have the set repaired
- we'd miss it a lot if we didn't!"
"Well, I'll be damned!" the man said, admiringly, and glanced at his wife.
The boy held the front door open while I carried the set out to the truck.
"Thank you, my boy," I said, with the warmth that comes only from a completed
"Thank you, sir," he replied happily.
"When you come back, I'll take you over to my uncle's house - something's wrong
with his set, too. I know, because I was visiting there yesterday."
He winked, and began a beautiful friendship. I'm giving him a set of tools for
Posted December 7, 2020