Some people have home electronics and appliances that will outlast their grandchildren. My student house has a washing machine that's older than I am. My parents recently gave away a completely functional 18 year old VCR with UHF and VHF dials whose most complex electronic component was the clock. Everyone has wonderful TVs and stereos they've had for years and love and know inside-out.
I am not one of these people. My cool electrical stuff breaks. Always. This is my story.
The Sports Walkman
I was the proud owner of a Sony sports Walkman. Everyone at my school owned one, as they were robust, completely waterproof, and generally great - perfect for the sorta thing high school students will chuck into their backpack without fear of it getting broken. If I recall, it cost me something like $40.
Unfortunately, after a few months of service from my beautiful, lemon yellow Walkman, it started to become sick. The radio tuner stopped working, the tape motor went funny, and it basically broke.
My mother undertook the correct course of action and took it back to Consumers Distributing where we'd bought it, and got a new one. Except, when I flopped down on my bed one night and stuck one of my mix tapes in, I was greeted by gibberish.
You see, my new little Walkman liked playing tapes backwards. The next day we were back in Consumers, and getting another exchange. We went through no less than five 'replacements' standing there at the desk, somewhere the gears would get jammed when you pushed play, some that played backwards! I finally got my replacement, and I still have it, except the little switch to go between radio and tape has broken off. I knew people who had also lost the volume and tuner knobs, and were forced to change the channels with a knife point. And don't you dare mention the little screw-hole at the bottom which controls tape speed. Don't ever touch that, kids.
The Global Television Set
When I moved overseas, my parents bought a 26" Sharp combination television/VCR. It seems an ingenious idea, it can receive any country's television signals, and play and record any country's videotapes. It was broken before we even used it.
Playing NTSC tapes would cause the picture to jump for no apparent reason every 10 seconds. PAL tapes were fine. It was also incapable of doing the simple conversion task of NTSC Playstation games on a PAL console into full colour - red was omitted, producing a very strange effect.
My family carried this behemoth of a TV to several extremely suspicious repair shops in numerous bad neighbourhoods, none of whom could fix it. The only certified Sharp shop guy sent it off to Sharp themselves, only for it to come back with Sharp throwing up their hands and going "I dunno".
Everyone who sees it thinks it's the best TV ever, and asks where I got it and how they can get one. They look at me with disbelieving eyes when I say it's terrible, that it can't play tapes properly, that it ate my Three Kings tape and threatened to eat my girlfriend's Chicken Run tape. My father says he'd like to throw it out the window, onto the head of the guy who sold it to us.
The Minidisc Headphones
This tale of woe comes in the form of my Minidisc Player, an MZ-R55, or rather, the little headphones it came with. The player itself s tiny, gold, and has an external AA battery pack which nicely supplements the little internal NiCd battery. This little thingy-bob works perfectly, and I love it.
One day while I was home from uni, my darling mother comes a'vacuuming with her huge Beaumark vacuum with twin carpet beaters in the nozzle... and SUCKS UP THE HEADPHONES. They are chewed up much like the shark victims in Jaws.
Now, the thing about these headphones is they were specifically designed for the player. The player has the little control pod halfway up the wire, so you can change tracks and stuff while the player itself stays safely in your pocket. If your player didn't come with one, go buy one, they're great. Thus, the headphone wire is only half the length of standard headphones. Using regular headphones means there's a huge spool of needless wire hanging around, getting in the way. Very inconvenient.
I went down to Tottenham Court Road, which is THE street to buy stereo bits in London. I visited every single shop on the street with no luck (although in one the clerk offered to buy my jacket off me). Finally, in the tiny, cramped basement Sony 'repair centre' which I doubt Akio Morita would ever set foot in, I found my answer.
I was only the second person to ever come in there with that request. You see, it costs Sony a lot to ship individual parts, getting a new set of short-cord headphones would cost me £30. I stood in the smoky underbelly of this shop (which was not unlike the pawn shop basement from Pulp Fiction) unable to believe my ears. The nice repairman acknowledged it was ridiculous. I could get at least six pairs of regular headphones for that. Suffice to say, I didn't bother.
On my 14th birthday, my present was a shiny new Sega CD model 2. To attach it to your Genesis, you have to open the expansion port on the bottom and remove the red cover, and then slide the Genesis onto the CD unit. I did this, and it didn't work.
My birthday is December 21st, so you can imagine Sega's customer support line wasn't exactly heaving with staff. When I finally got through after 3 hours of "Thanks so much for continuing to hold, we'll be right with you" recordings, I was told to scrub the life out of the expansion port's plug. The reason being, to remove the protective coating which was non-conducive. After completely removing the eraser from a pencil, it still didn't work.
So, in a blowing Canadian blizzard, I headed out to the Sega of Canada service centre, which was luckily in Toronto, and had it fixed. And my reward? Sewer Shark and Silpheed, in 64 colours of grainy FMV. Hooray!
Those are the most interesting tales of crappy electronics gnashing my testicles, but a brief list of the others includes:
- My Nokia 5110, which had a loose battery requiring careful handling lest it switch itself off.
- My Playstation 7502, whose laser packed in after a year.
- My Dreamcast Astropad, which never worked because one of the wires to the analogue stick is broken.
- Every Gravis joystick and pad I've ever owned has had cheap buttons which last a week.
- The bootleg Adlib soundcard I bought which would emit a piercing shriek on bootup until you ran something that used the card. Wolfenstein 3D was duly added as the final line of my autoexec.bat.
- My cheap EGA card, which prompted 2 hours of fiddling with dip switches to find a working combination.
- Every Timex Triathlon watch I've owned has died. I've still got them all, one is pre-Indiglo.
- Never buy a printer where the paper feeder is an optional accessory.
- We scavenged a Toyota Camry CD player from our friend's Camry when he sold it, and put it in ours. The discs constantly jammed, and Toyota shops had no idea what to do. We've since sold the car, and the new owner has the same problems. He loves the car, though.
- I too suffered from the infamous problem with my Nintendo where I had to leave it turned on forever lest it never work again.
- I've had countless walkmans of vary quality from varying brands all give up the ghost.
I don't know whether to blame crappy build quality or just the fact I seem to inadvertently buy the badly-made stuff. All I know is there are certain companies that I'll avoid forever, and that I'll treasure the few reliable pieces of electronics like they were my own children.
My eldest child is a Colecovision, circa 1982.