Leaking TV cable is the worst thing since the radon scare


DOES anybody else here have leaking TV cable? Does anybody here even know that leaking TV cable is a terrible menace?

That's right: menace. Airplanes could crash, possibly into your very own house, because your TV cable is leaking.

I was completely unaware of any of this until Monday when a man came to the door with a TV-cable-leakage detector. He said eerie electronic emissions had been detected from our house, which immediately made me think of flying saucers.

Maybe one had been hovering directly above our house, I suggested. On returning Sunday night after a week's absence, I had naturally headed immediately toward the gin bottle and been alarmed to find it perilously close to empty.

If extraterrestrials with powerful gin detectors had hovered over the house, they might have taken advantage of our absence to help themselves. Wasn't it possible, I asked, that by entering the house and fiddling with martini equipment they had left behind a telltale electronic residue that was escaping in the form of eerie electronic emissions?

The man with the leakage detector rejected my hypothesis out of hand. The leakage was coming from the cable, he said with that authoritative manner used by people who have been to electronics school when dealing with people whose specialty is Latin poetry.

He was already on his knees with leakage detector aimed at the back of our parlor TV set.

Why had I let him into the house? Didn't I realize he might be casing the place as a potential burgling site?

More likely he was an IRS agent in disguise, looking to see if we had unreported cash concealed behind the parlor TV set. To test his credentials, I asked if, since he happened to be in the house, he would be good enough to show me how to program our VCR, which, for the seven years we have owned it, we have never learned to program for ourselves.

He rejected my request in that authoritative manner used by people who understand cable leakage when dealing with people who can't program a VCR.

"Nobody can program a VCR except a 10-year-old child," he said, heading for the kitchen television set. We have a stove vent back there, and it occurred to me that the fan might be sucking electronic dots right off the screen and pumping them skyward where they were endangering mighty jetliners by canceling their automatic flight attendants during the dinner service.

He rejected my idea in that authoritative manner used by people who never get bumped from overbooked flights when dealing with people whose reservations are canceled by electronic glitches before they even get to the airport.

"Vents don't suck electronic dots off the screen," he said. "There's no leakage back here either."

I led him to a radio with a cable connection, without which we would be unable to receive FM broadcasts, which is to say, anything but rockabilly's top 100 hits.

"Aha!" he exclaimed. He'd hit pay dirt, or at least pay static. "Listen to this."

"You've got bad cable leakage," he diagnosed, and treated the condition by disconnecting the cable, thereby leaving us alone in a rockabilly world. Couldn't it be fixed? Not a chance.

Couldn't the cable company do something about it? It was, after all, their cable. Nothing could be done.

But it had been in use for seven years, so why hadn't the leakage been detected earlier? He said the trouble might be of recent origin.

"Maybe lightning," he said.

"You mean I'll never be able to pick up anything but rockabilly for the rest of my life?"

"Electronics is a strange thing," he said with that authoritative manner used by people who can understand the lyrics of rock 'n' roll songs when dealing with people who remember when you could not only hear a Lorenz Hart lyric on the radio but also grasp the double entendre in every word of it.

He left the disconnected radio cable on the floor. Does anybody know if it's safe being in the house with it? If it can bring down mighty jets from above when connected to the radio, what might it do to mere people in the same house with it? We haven't been so worried since the radon scare.

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.

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