The cable quandary

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My dad earned his living as an appliance repairman. I earn mine putting words on paper.

It's odd how some talents get passed from generation to generation and some don't. My dad personified the old saying "if he can't fix it, it ain't broke." Everyone in our family -- heck, everyone in the little town where we lived -- knew that if their washer, dryer, refrigerator, air conditioner or any other home appliance suddenly stopped working, Ronnie Loftis was the man to call. I literally saw him diagnose broken appliances over the phone based on a description of whatever odd noise it was making.

I say all that to say this: Screwing in a light bulb is a major mechanical achievement for me. For whatever reason, the mechanically inclined gene chose to bypass me. I'm OK with that most of the time, and I'm smart enough to know my limitations -- unlike one of my favorite uncles, who wouldn't give up until he'd tried to fix it himself and inevitably rendered the problem much worse than it was to begin with. I'm not ashamed to call in an expert when I need help.

I was reminded of all this over the weekend when the simple task of connecting a cable TV box left me angry, frustrated and blacked out of the final quarter of "Sunday Night Football."

It all started with noble intentions. I recently bought myself a big flat-screen television to replace the one that was stolen from my home on the day after Christmas last year. I connected the new TV in the living room and carried the TV that had been in the living room upstairs to my bedroom. But when I connected the cable box to the TV in my room, I couldn't get it to work. Frankly, I was too busy with work and other obligations to worry about it for a couple of weeks and hey, I had that nice new TV downstairs, right in front of my comfortable recliner. But then, when I made my way downstairs Sunday to drink a cup of coffee and watch some football, I discovered my son and his girlfriend smack in the middle of a Star Wars marathon.

Pro football is important to me; Star Wars is not. But instead of swiping the remote control and changing the channel, I finished my coffee and headed upstairs to watch the game. Or at least I hoped so.

I turned the TV on, tuned it to the appropriate "source" and got nothing but a blue screen with the Cox logo. I figured there was a connection issue, so I disconnected the power cord and coaxial cable feeding into the cable box, and the HDMI cable from the cable box to the TV, then reconnected it all. Nothing. I checked to make sure the power cord was plugged firmly into the wall. That wasn't it. After running through that sequence for about 15 minutes, it finally occurred to me to check the cable coming out of the wall. I discovered that it was loose, so I tightened it up. Instantly, the cable came on and I spent the next few hours watching the Patriots and Broncos. Later I changed the channel to NBC and watched the "Sunday Night Football" pregame show. Then I went downstairs to cook dinner and watched the first half of the game between the Cowboys and Buccaneers from my recliner. My mom would be disappointed in me, but I left the TV on in my room.

At halftime, I headed back upstairs and settled in for the second half. But about halfway through the third quarter, I heard a loud noise. I turned the TV off to listen and make sure everything was OK. It turned out the noise wasn't anything to worry about, so I turned the TV back on. And there was no cable.

So I ran through all the same checks as before. And nothing worked. I noticed that the cable box would power on every time I used the remote control to turn the TV off, then the cable box would power off every time I turned the TV on. So I thought maybe somehow the TV remote was actually controlling the cable box as well. Fine, I'll outsmart it. I turned the TV off with the remote, and the cable box powered on. Then I turned the TV on by pushing the actual power button on the TV. And the cable powered off. I said a few things that I can't repeat in this space.

The next step was to try plugging the HDMI cable into different ports in the TV. That didn't work, either.

Finally, I disconnected the HDMI cable completely, then turned the TV on with the remote control. The cable box didn't power off. I reconnected the HDMI cable to the cable box, then to the TV. As soon as I plugged it into the TV, the cable box powered off. More unprintable words followed, and I had had enough. The game was over by then, anyway.

As I sat there stewing I remembered the Christmas when I bought my oldest son his first bicycle, some assembly required. I patiently put it together on Christmas Eve, until I got to the very end. I don't remember the exact issue but I had a hard time getting the seat attached correctly. After about a half-hour of trying, I picked up the phone and called my dad. He was there in less than 10 minutes, did some sort of twisty thing and had the seat attached in 30 seconds. That was Dad.

He's been gone nearly five years now, the strongest man I've ever known rendered too weak by lung cancer to even draw a breath. In the end, it was up to me to advise the doctor to remove him from a ventilator.

It seems silly, I know, but the whole cable snafu was a bit of a microcosm. I have to figure these things out on my own now. I would have given anything to call and ask Dad's advice Sunday night.

Instead, I suppose I'll try a new HDMI cable.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.