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[This is the fourth post in a series. For a little background on the thinking behind this, please read this.]
In 1981, my family moved from the house where I grew up to another house about a mile away. My parents had been looking at houses for a long time, so I knew this was coming, but I liked my old house and did not want to move. Nonetheless, the time came to pack up our things, and since there is a law in my hometown that one must move only when it is blazing hot, we waited for a stifling summer day to do so. The first night in the new house, with everything in boxes and my parents and the cat and myself all sleeping in one little room together (to be near the sole window air conditioner), remains clear in my memory, as I felt certain this proved how harebrained a plan it was to move households. It only took another week or so, after the house was assembled and its advantages were easier for me to see, for me to reevaluate my reluctance and realize the appeal of the new place. Not that I admitted as much to my parents at the time, mind you.
The excitement of the summer of 1981 took the form of the approaching wedding of Charles and Diana. My mother had it in her mind that we would install cable television in our new house, and do so in time to watch the wedding in sharp detail on our giant fifteen inch Sony color TV. She made an appointment with the local cable people to come out to give us a quote for installing the necessary cabling.
The other, more local excitement that summer was the wasp nest we found on the third floor. My father bravely climbed up a tall ladder armed with a can of Raid, and sprayed the portion of the nest that could be reached that way. It was soon clear, however, that the colony extended into the house and we knew we needed the help of a proper exterminator, as the wasps would occasionally appear indoors, which was alarming. Another appointment was made with an exterminator, and for convenience’s sake, it was made for the same time as the cable man was expected.
The day arrived, and before long we had two vans in our driveway – the cable man and the bug man. The cable man walked around the house with my mother and explained how he was going to staple long coils of thick, black cable to the outside of the house and then drill various holes through the stone walls of my mother’s very pretty, very new (to her) house. She was aghast at his suggestions, and when she explained her unwillingness to allow him to proceed with this plan, the cable man essentially threw his hands up in an exasperated way and said there was no other way to get the cable into the house.
Meanwhile, the exterminator had gone spelunking into the attic and had spent some time examining the various dead wasps we had collected around the house. When my mother left the cable man and turned her attention to the bug fellow, he told her she had an unknown form of wasp in the house, and he could offer no guarantees about being able to kill them. Having had both workmen deliver such unhelpful news, my mother was very defeated and told them both they should pack up and leave. At this point they walked into the driveway each headed for their van, and the cable man asked if he could take a look at the glass jar with the dead wasps in it. Holding it up to the light, he squinted at them for a moment, and declared, “Dolichovespula maculata” in a very authoritative tone. He went on to explain about the bug’s habits and weaknesses, and explain how best to remove them from the house. At the same time, the exterminator had started explaining to my mother how it was possible to run the cables into the basement and then fish them up through the walls, thereby avoiding the external wiring and drilling which the cable man had proposed.
Mom listened to them both and laughed, and then suggested they swap vans, as the cable man seemed to be an entomologist and the exterminator seemed to be an experienced cable-runner.
• • • • • • •
Fast forward to later in the summer… the wasps had been handled, and an appointment had been made to run one line of cable into the house while we awaited a different crew to come and run the cables up through the walls into the various places where we thought we’d want televisions in the house. The wedding was days away, and mom still had big plans to watch the event on a static-free screen on the second floor with no rabbit ears. The cable men arrived and began their work, very cleverly snaking the wires up and around the various obstructions inside the walls. On this day, the other project that was underway was a man rototilling the earth in the corner of the lawn my mother had marked out as her garden. He showed up and wrestled the machine off of the truck and prepared to get to work. Inside, the men running cable were freelance guys unaffiliated with the cable company, and they started to wonder if they might be able to connect the cables they had run to the cable box without the cable company’s knowledge. Just as an experiment, mind you. They headed into the backyard and found the cable box in a corner of the yard, and started fiddling with it to see if they could tamper with the tamper-proof connectors expressly designed to prevent such experiments. They were hollering over the noise of the rototiller to their colleague in the kitchen, who had a TV plugged in and connected to the cable, and who was to sing out if he saw a picture.
After a few moments of fiddling, the cable men outside hollered, “How about now?” to the man inside, and as he answered, “Perfect!” there was a grinding noise in the garden right before the rototiller ground to a sudden halt. The man who had been running it rocked it back on its wheels, and as the blades came up from the ground, they brought with them a black cable that had been buried, unmarked, very shallowly in our our backyard right where the garden was to be situated.
In no time at all, we realized that at the very moment the cable men had connected to the cable, the rototiller man had chopped it in two. Once the cable was cut, it did not take long for the cable people to send out a crew who found the break in no time by following the curses of the rototiller man. They also found the tampered cable box and replaced the old box with a new, much more formidable unit.
Thus, when the big wedding day arrived, my mother and our neighbors could not watch it on the cable, which would not be repaired until after the festivities were over. Instead, I sat on the windowsill in my parents’ room holding rabbit ears and watching the ceremony upside down while my mother watched the snowy, static-y image of Diana and Charles parading through London and taking their vows.
• • • • • • •
Those are the two related coincidences of 1981 – the two workmen who each should have had the other’s job and the synchronous cable connection and severance. These interlocked stories lack a satisfying punchline, but sometimes that’s just how stories are.
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