When television was furniture

Harry Drabik

Going through the house last week I decided to get rid of an old TV in the spare upper room. It was of the size that in my growing-up days was called a portable. That meant it was portable if two persons took hold to manhandle and maneuver. Even though what I intended to move was a modern portable minus the series of wire-wound transformers it did have a picture tube which in itself weighed more than a present day flat screen. Feeling hearty I decided I’d be able to wrestle the set from the room and down the stairs by myself if I took the task in carefully planned stages. A better plan would have been to find two people to do this task while I had a sandwich, but that wisdom withheld itself until I was on the stairs trying to prop and balance the awkward box between fits of catching my breath.

I got it to the bottom of the stairs and was tempted to leave it until next day when a flash reminded me of the Rule of Tasks (which applies equally well to Projects and Chores). The rule states that any task set aside for more than a day will become part of the overall décor or floor plan. Once set aside an undone project blends chameleon like into the background. Months ago a ceiling light stopped working. Taken down for repair (a considerable chore) the fixture called for parts I didn’t have. This meant I had to set the project aside to order parts. We know how handy the internet is for that and how well it plays into the Rule of Tasks. Halted for part ordering, the project blended into the fabric with no more visibility than an odd thread in a tapestry. You have to look to find it. The parts proved elusive so the waiting-for-parts fixture remains on a corner of my kitchen counter to this day. (Need I mention I live alone which is like giving the Rule of Tasks steroids?) I got tired of waiting for parts and got a different fixture which I installed (another minor chore turned major when one mounting thing didn’t match the other). Of course the tardy parts arrived next day when there was no longer any urgency whatever over the non-working fixture. I could take my leisure about repairing the faulty lamp and deciding what to do with it. These are cases of the Rule of Tasks having offspring. The Rule of Tasks is one of the most prolific breeders on the planet and may well rival Mom Nature in fecundity.

Now let me get back to the not-so-portable portable at the bottom of the stairs. If that damned thing sat there a day I knew I’d be stepping over and around it into eternity. It had to get into my truck pronto. Unless I drove through a wall to shorten the distance I had a long way to lug that beast. Fortitude in Distress was the motto of one of the fur trade companies that traipsed this region far before my time, but I think I exhibited keen appreciation of their motto by persevering (a form of fortitude) and experiencing distress doing so. (If the fur traders believed there was fortitude IN distress then that makes no sense and I’d recommend ignoring the motto or using it only in the way I did. I hope that’s clear.)

While I’m on this reprise I’ll sneak in the observation that persons born with an eccentricity gene (I am a possible inclusion) benefit greatly by a proper upbringing to aid quirk development. This aid need not be intentional to work. My father, for example, thought he was teaching common sense and good value when in fact I grasped neither from his repeated attempts to improve me. And here, for I’m sure you’re wondering where in hell’s blazes this is going, is where I return to the TV topic.

Many of you will have happily forgotten the TV was once purchased mainly from a furniture store or catalog merchant and came in two primary forms. There was the table model (called portable if you were of Herculean mind) and the console model on four short legs and styled to fit the modern age of 1950 for those with no imagination for what modern might become. My father’s idea of good common sense and of value required that he take the console concept to its farther reaches and combine the best of modern and traditional into one great huge cabinet. Father’s choice had to be specially ordered and was “crafted” to fit the majesty of his top technology choice, the Motorola Quasar TV. There was really only one choice of wood for so important a piece of furniture. That was Philippine mahogany carved in a French provincial style. (Anyway, that’s what they called it though the wood may have come from Ecuador and the box was as French as bottled dressing.)

The TV screen “hid” behind two carved door fronts that once opened might stay so until the funeral was over. I say funeral because the overall effect of a carved mahogany cabinet in the living room was near that of having a stout wooden coffin sized for a ten year old on display for all to stare at and admire. A console TV was meant to be looked at and was in fact the central feature of the living room. Dad was very proud of the thing, which at the time cost a month’s wage or more. It was a big deal having a fancy console that outstripped any the neighbors had. Dad was happy. I should have listened to Dad. If I had I’d have known ownership of a proper TV required four muscular friends to move it during which one could look calmly on advising them what woodwork to avoid as they struggled through doorways with the prize. The way to move a TV is watch someone else do it.