DIY or Don’t . . . But You Really Should

Oh, motherboard! Photo courtesy Jim Washburn

I fixed a television set. I’ll repeat that: I fixed a television set. These days, that’s tantamount to slaying a dragon.

Fifty-six years ago, were you quite so old, you would have been sitting around watching Peter, Paul & Mary sing “Puff the Magic Dragon” on Ed Sullivan, and if the family’s black-and-white TV suddenly went on the fritz, you know what you’d do? You’d fix it.

A 6-year-old with supervision could do it: Loosen a few screws, pull off the back, remove the vacuum tubes, test them on the space-age diagnostic machine at the Thrifty Drug Store, replace the bad ones for a couple of bucks, and voila! If the problem’s in the guts, Dad asks Zenith for a schematic, warms up the soldering gun, and voila! If the problem’s more complex, the repairman comes over, Mom hands him a few bucks, and voila!

Goodbye, voila! Hello, Vizio. It has a gigantic, godlike picture, is one-twelfth as deep, and doesn’t get hot enough to heat taquitos on it. That seems like real progress to me. The trade-off is when the screen goes dark after three years, you’ve suddenly got a slab of e-waste the size of a Pollock painting. It’s not made for you to work on, and it’s embossed with dire warnings against attempting such. There is less risk, evidently, in giving a mountain lion a bubble bath.

The Vizio was the second big-ass flat-screen to die on me. I kept the first dead one for well more than a year so I could stub my toes on it, certain that someday I’d open it up and magically fix it. It wound up on the lawn with a $5 sign on it.

Photo courtesy Jim Washburn

For reasons I don’t understand, my wife didn’t want me doing the same with the Vizio. I think having a bunch of broken TVs around is a status thing, like southerners whose yards are full of rusty automobile carcasses. People will see your busted TVs and say, “Wow, look at the life this guy has led! He’s seen it all!”

I don’t know anyone who has ever had a flat-screen TV repaired. Why dump $187 into getting it fixed when another thing could go wrong in two months? You could put that money into a shiny new set with even more gala shit that can go wrong with it. C’mon, consume!

But I just can’t give up that easily. There’s an inspirational poster that says, “Whatever the story of my life will be, in no sentence of it will it ever say, ‘I gave up.’” That’s true of me, especially as regards the sentence “I gave up weed.” I have a hash pipe I got in 1976, and if I can still make it work, no damn TV is going to get the better of me.

So after only a month of inaction this time, I got on the internet and entered the plaintive search words Vizio, screen dark and sadness accrues. Next thing I knew, I was watching YouTube videos of guys in overalls who looked less likely to be working on a TV than to be working on Ned Beatty in Deliverance. But what they did was methodically show me how to diagnose and fix my TV.

I learned that on certain models, if your screen goes dead, shine a flashlight on it at close range. If you see a ghostly image of what should be there, the problem might be loose solder joints in the thumbnail-sized connector plug between the video board and power supply.

Following the YouTube instructions, I pulled the suspect circuit board from the set, and under high magnification, I found that the solder joints were indeed loose in each of the 14 tiny solder joints. A mere 20 cents of solder and two hours of intricate, curse-laden soldering later, the set was working fine, and we’d saved $800 by not buying a new TV.

I have to advise you not to try this at home. Take it to a campground, so raccoons can dispose of your body if you electrocute yourself. Your TV will try to kill you given half a chance. Even unplugged, its capacitors can store a lethal charge for days and carry a grudge for years against your binge-watching 168 Rifleman episodes.

The moral of this tale is that you are not helpless. The ruling class would have you believe that your phone, automobile and even your own body has no user-serviceable parts. (Not true!: I’ve read accounts of people trepanning their own brains, and in Jamaica, I once cut a burrowing insect out of my belly using nothing but nail clippers and a head full of rum. Your body is a wonderland! Or at least a decrepit fun zone.)

I’m older than rope, but I’m still learning to MacGyver new things, including how to fix a refrigerator or bring 1950s Fender Telecaster cases back from the dead. If you hit a wall, there’s a world full of people willing to help.

My long-gone friend, the OC manufacturer/philanthropist John Crean, told me that whenever he had a mobile-home design problem he couldn’t lick, he’d call a competitor and ask how he’d solved it. Crean said, “Half the time they’d say, ‘You have a hell of a nerve asking me that’ because we were really going after each other’s business, and then they’d tell me the answer. I did the same when they called me. That’s just something about human nature.”

Brian Wilson once wrote a song called “You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone,” and truer words were never spoken. The author Victor Villaseñor made a great point that human history is one of cooperation, that we only hear so much about war and empire-building because men write history and men like mischief. The real day-to-day tale is of neighbors, villages and nations helping one another.

Technology alters the shape of that, but not the essence. As locked-down, Trumped-up, profiteered and corporatized as the world may seem, the ol’ synapses chart new paths of wonder through it. Maybe Facebook is electrified evil, but it’s also how I find out about protests, how I learn if a friend needs help, how I hear about artists in town to share what they’ve got. It’s where I churn out inane photo captions to distract folks from life’s sorrows and avulsions. Yay for electrified evil!

The only revolver you need. Photo courtesy Jim Washburn

You never know where your stuff might reach if you don’t keep churning. A year ago, I joined a sane gun laws protest outside then-Representative Mimi Walters’ Irvine office. Heading out the door, I thought, “I should have a sign.” I was meeting a friend there who was giving me an old turntable, so, great, I’d make a sign saying, “The only revolver you need” and carry 16 ungainly pounds of turntable through the march. My back suggested I instead attach a copy of the Beatles Revolver album to a Saran Wrap spool.

Five minutes of work, and then I was out the door and on my way to fleeting immortality. The Weekly ran a photo, and it was quickly copied and shared tens of thousands of times around the world. A guy even used it as his ID photo on a Texas dating site. Creepy, yes, but it did my spirit a world of good that some guy thought a photo of me would get him laid.

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