“I’m only getting one channel upstairs,” Sue said.

One channel. Are we not paying for 150 channels, 143 of which we do not watch, and instead scroll through them on the way to the seven that we do watch?

“It’s been like that for weeks,” Sue said.

Hers was the voice of exasperation, dejection and hopelessness, the technological equivalent of the sign over the doorway of hell that reads “Abandon all hope ye who enter here." This version was “Abandon all hope in anything that plugs in the wall, relies on Wi-Fi or has the word 'smart' in its product title."

Weeks? Why didn’t you tell me or did you tell me and, out of self-defense and a dearth of practical skills, I put it far enough down the list that it did not make it from yesterday’s list to today’s?

The list grows and shrinks. There are fleeting, almost miraculous moments when everything comes together like harmonic convergence but these don’t last long, certainly not long enough to remember, count on or refer to as the new normal.

It reminds me of the cartoon in The New Yorker of the man standing in his living room with a big smile, the caption reading “Gary basks in the glow of a fifteen-minute window with no empty cardboard boxes in the house.”

I go upstairs. I don’t know if we have a smart TV or not, or whether it matters. Are smart TVs for smart people or are they for dumb people? If they're for smart people, then we won’t be getting one. If they are for dumb people, we should already own one so we can get on with being perplexed by what makes smart TVs smarter than the ones we already have.

I pick up the remotes. That’s a problem. Two remotes means two things: Big TV is going to make it twice as hard because you should only have one remote that you’ve already programmed to do the job of two remotes but if you also have Apple TV or Amazon, you may have three remotes and then you’re really doomed.

Doomed as we may be, most of us have a working knowledge of what the remotes do until they stop doing what they should be doing because somebody has pressed a button they shouldn’t have or a sunspot or a power outage has scrambled the system.

I press the remote that supposedly turns on the TV. Does this also turn on the cable and, if so, may I use the words “system” and “cable” interchangeably or are they as much at odds as Custer and Red Horse?

The slender TV remote does not work so I pick up the fatter Spectrum remote, or is Spectrum Bright House because one bought the other and swallowed it like a boa does a pair of baby rabbits. I push “system,” “power,” reverse the order and then try pushing each of them twice.

When that doesn’t work, I start punching buttons on both remotes. My eyes are open but they needn’t be. I am the blind man feeling the elephant and it all feels pretty much like an elephant.

A few minutes later, I hit “guide” and the list of channels pops up magically. I have no idea what has happened and this is not an illustration of “reproducibility” whereby a “result obtained by an experiment or observational study should be achieved again with a high degree of agreement when the study is replicated with the same methodology by different researchers.”

“What did you do?” Sue asks.

I don’t know. I might be able to do it again but probably not. Whatever you do, don’t touch anything, don’t breathe and when you walk into the room and approach the TV, do so quietly with your head down.


A few days later, the broiler stopped working.

“You know the broiler hasn’t worked for months,” Sue said.

Again with the “months” thing. Have you ever considered being more thankful for the things that do work?

I went to YouTube, watched a couple of videos and then dipped into a my-broiler-is-not-working chat room and deduced, if I may use that term, that it was probably the igniter. I learn that in order to replace the igniter, which is on the roof toward the back of the oven, it helps to be 4 feet 5 inches tall and an Olympian gymnast capable of doing a backbend and holding the position for 10 excruciating minutes.

I order the part, I get the part and it's the wrong part even though the part number matches the model number of the stove.

No problem because all I have to do is box up the igniter, print a return address label should the printer be working, which it is not, and return it to the parts house in Kenosha, Wis., which is experiencing 150-year winter storm weather.

I call two repair shops. No. 1 doesn’t return the call but I am elated when No. 2 does and schedules a visit the following week. When the repairman arrives, he backbends his way into the oven, shakes his head and says he is returning to the shop to do some research on his computer but that he will not leave me in the lurch. I am relieved, and I never hear from him again.

The upstairs TV is still working or was until a few days ago when the man working on the roof accidentally cut the cable. We have gone from one channel to none. Life is becoming more old-fashioned by the moment.

Contact The Californian’s Herb Benham at 661-395-7279 or hbenham@bakersfield.com. His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.