11/27/2012 07:59 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

Configuring a New System


We live in dread fear of our television system. We'd bought the TV online and it sat in the box for a long time until we could find "the guy" to set it up for us. We told ourselves it was simply too heavy to maneuver, but everyone knows you need "the guy" to configure an audio/visual system. The components are wired together deep within the cabinet and include a labyrinth of tabs and sensors and cables -- like cyborg technology, only more complicated. The universal remote control knows how to turn everything on and off. It also does a bunch of other stuff, but we've never figured any of that out.

For years, we were careful to not make any changes. Replacing the batteries in the remote control was a sober and concentrated affair. "Will it still work?" "Let's hope so." And so, when our new puppy got hold of the universal remote, we were entirely panicked. Puppies are like toddlers: If there's quiet, there's trouble. By the time I noticed, the dog had consumed a spiral memo pad and a small tub of hand cream, lid and all (we'll see those again later). As for the remote, he didn't exactly eat it, but he did chew off the head where the signal is sent out.

The clerk at the electronics superstore looked about 15. My husband held out the remote and said, "Our phaser is broken."

The clerk was too young for Star Trek. He scratched a pimple and led us to the remote control aisle where we gaped at the vast display.

"Any of the devices on the top four rows will work," the clerk said, glancing at his iPhone.

Clearly, we'd interrupted something important, like a round of Angry Birds. My husband was utterly focused.

"What's the difference between this one and this one?"

The kid knew his devices. He explained the features of each unit, using "like" after every fifth word. My husband nodded the whole time, feigning comprehension.

Finally, the clerk pulled a box from the wall. "This is the one you want," he said, holding it low, like a lure, encouraging us toward the register. "It's the same as yours, only it has better conductivity and more features." He concluded his sales pitch at the register. "The directions are self explanatory," he said, handing the box to me. "Just plug the remote into your laptop and it basically does everything automatically."

I wanted to ask Will it turn the television on and off?, but I saw no reason to flaunt my ineptitude -- or my age.

At home, we charged the remote, plugged it into the laptop and followed the step-by-step instructions. Within minutes, the setup was complete.

"No sweat." My husband stood, victorious. He pointed the head at the television and pushed ON. Nothing happened. I got busy collecting the trash. I knew better than to get between a man and an instruction manual. Finally, he said. "Read the trouble-shooting guide to me, and I'll try and identify the problem."

I cleared my throat and read. "Unassign all your devices from the RF system and then reassign the devices, adjusting the placement of the blasters..."

He began tugging on the wires and jiggling the little sticky pad sensors.

"What are you doing?" I shrieked. "Don't disconnect anything. We don't know what goes with what."

"I'm just checking to see if the connections are secure," he said. He reached to the power strip tucked behind the components. "I'll flick it off and on." The system went dark.

"That was the fuse," I pointed out unnecessarily. "Maybe we should call 'the guy'"?

"I am perfectly capable of figuring this out!" He stuck his hand into a nest of wires. "There's an extra cord here," he said, leaning farther. "I wonder if I should plug it in..."

I called our grown sons. "Your father is intent on electrocuting himself," I wailed. They promised to help just as soon as they had a free weekend, which could be any time between now and when the polar ice cap has finished melting.

"Let's try putting in a new user name and password," my husband slurred, exhausted. "What was our old password?"

"I don't have it," I said. "I thought you wrote it down."

He rubbed his forehead, a sure sign that the simple process of configuring the new remote was finally coming to an end. "Read to me from the guide, how to set a new password."

"Siga as instrucies de teste de IR na etapa..." I shrugged off his stare. "Maybe it's more useful in Portugese."

We gave up and went to bed. Maybe tomorrow we'll call "the guy."