Paul and I left many things behind in our Fire Island house -- now on the market -- because the custom there is for houses to be sold furnished and ready to occupy, right down to the knives and forks. So we're conducting our own personal economic stimulus package by buying what we need for the new house. Tonight we went to a major NY/New Jersey appliance chain and bought a TV. This is an arduous experience, since the salespeople (our guy told us they are referred to as "sales counselors") are very eager and clearly have been trained to offer you many warranties, service plans, and accessories. Picking the television was easy, but then we had to have the lengthy explanation of the potential hazards of not buying the extended service plan; score one for me, I declined that one. (Paul prefers, in these situations, to smile and make the occasional charming remark to put everyone at ease. If there's yes, no, or What do you mean? to be said, it will be said by me.)
Then came the matter of the connecting cable. We had been specifically warned by Joey, the cable installation guy, that this chain would attempt to sell us a special cable which we certainly did not need. Our sales counselor explained the vital necessity of this product, and I told him what Joey had said. He said, Why should you believe this dope? and I said, Why should I believe you? Suddenly things felt combative, and I felt strangely like my father, trying to protect myself from being taken advantage of in a harsh world full of pitfalls for the unwary.
Our counselor led us to a display -- two identical television sets side by side, one hooked up with the ordinary old cable, one with the sixty dollar "monster cable." A sign read, See the monster difference! Once the sets were turned on, we studied the side by side pictures. Could I see a difference? Maybe a little. I asked Paul, who couldn't tell any difference at all. I asked the counselor, who said, Well, I see it every day...
Now that this approach had failed, our counselor began to extol the virtues of having one cable to plug in instead of the five you have to deal with in the unmonstrous type. I pointed out that he had just changed his argument and suddenly the whole thing started to be funny. We both warmed to our task: comic persuasion and comic resistance.Experts were called from around the room and testimony given. It was sworn that I could go home, research the matter on line, and come back to get the necessary cable.Or that I could of course muddle through with the plain cable and never know the singular outlines of the blades of grass on the luminous football fields flashing on the screens around us. (Fields, weirdly, made of liquid crystals that apparently untwist to just the right degree, when electrically stimulated, to make a tiny portion of the image of a blade of grass.)
Reader, I bought it. The sales counselor was surprised. I did it because I had become entertained with an exchange that felt sour and then was converted, as Alan Shapiro puts it in a wonderful poem called "Old Joke," "to a rightness." And because I didn't want to feel like my father, ever-vigilant about being taken for a ride. Better to be taken for a few rides, or that's how I've conducted myself, anyway.
And what do you think, does one actually need a monster cable?