I feel terrible. The world was mourning Princess Diana last week, but I didn't have time.
No disrespect to Her former-Royal Highness, but I was battling crumbling technology.
"The dryer won't run," my wife told me Wednesday night as I listened to a panel of Legitimate Journalists distance themselves from paparazzi and the tabloids. She interrupted someone (was it Pat Buchanan?) to say, "I took a load of dry clothes out and refilled it and it wouldn't start again." The door switch lever, I found, wasn't pressing against the door switch when the door was closed, and when I tried bending the lever forward it snapped off.
Since I couldn't get a new lever until Thursday, I sat down in front of the television set to learn that the Royal Family didn't understand Diana's touch with the simple folk.
The mourners had been gathering at Buckingham Palace well into Thursday evening when my son Bobby found that my aging Volvo, which he had taken to school that day, wouldn't start. We had to have it towed to the Volvo mechanic (he decided to specialize in Volvos and Saabs, the receptionist told me on one of my visits, because they seemed to be more trouble-prone than other cars). As it turned out, the ground wire for the generator had broken and had to be replaced--at a princely price, I might add.
Because I teach a late class on Thursdays, I couldn't pick up the car or buy the part for the dryer. So while celebrities gushed to sympathetic TV interlocutors of their closeness to Diana and spat vitriol at the paparazzi, I spent the rest of my evening going at the top of the clothes dryer with screwdriver, pliers and expletives. Mirabile dictu, as the Royals are wont to say, I was able to get the top off and, even more marvelous to tell, found that it wouldn't take a rocket scientist or even a brain surgeon, as my friend Tom McGann is wont not to say, to replace the part.
The Princess With the Common Touch probably did that sort of thing around the palace, I thought, while Charles was on the telephone with that filthy Camilla.
On Friday morning I gave Bobby the keys to our other vehicle, the Grand Lemon, and he dropped me off at the garage. I picked up the Volvo according to plan. Then I was to get the switch lever at a nearby appliance parts shop.
I had driven less than a mile when I heard a grinding of metal against metal, then a steady crunching. I turned back. Block--crunch--by block--crunch--I held my breath. Two blocks away from the garage the crunching stopped. Everything stopped. I walked the rest of the way.
The Volvo mechanic took me to my car in his Volvo (I think only Volvo mechanics can afford to have Volvos; what I don't understand is how they find the time to fix other people's cars). The V.M. pushed me back to the station, and there he was able to crank the generator by hand. "That's not frozen," he said. "Must be the starter."
While he turned the key, an assistant jousted with the starter with a length of metal pipe. The starter responded with billowing smoke.
"You need a new starter," the V.M. said. "I have one I'll give you."
I sat down in the waiting room to read the August 4 issue of Time. I had barely gotten through the latest Princess Di gossip when the assistant told me the car was ready. As it turned out, the starter wasn't bad. Some of the wires had been shedding their insulation and had crossed, causing a short. The assistant V.M. had wrapped them in electrician's tape.
"See this?" the assistant said, peeling yellow insulation off a wire. It was the same yellow as the flag draping Princess Di's coffin. "See this?"
More flecks of yellow plastic fell onto the motor. "Volvos are notorious for this, he said. "And this is just on top. Those wires go all the way down there," and he pointed to a void where the umbilical of wires disappeared under the motor. "No telling how many wires down there are like this."
We both stared balefully at the wires. "Yessir, Volvos are notorious for this," he mused.
Comforted that I wasn't alone, I drove off. I bought the switch lever, or, rather, the switch assembly pack ("Oh, no, you can't buy just the lever." It comes in a package with a switch, screws, and two wire clips.) and installed it.
Later in the day, son Patrick borrowed the car, then picked me up at the university. All of the red warning lights on the dashboard were lit. They had gone on when he started the car, he told me.
Despite the problem, I drove to the television station to do the usual Friday night broadcast of "Informed Sources," though giving myself some extra time, and in the parking lot I checked under the hood. One of those bare wires had partially fused to the motor. I eased it off with a thumbnail.
"Please start," I prayed as I turned the key. The car started. The warning lights were out. Had Diana, who so loved the simple folk, interceded for me? Or her faithful assistant in performing good works for mankind, Mother Teresa, now with her in the Heavenly Kingdom?
Preparations for the program went well. We breezed through the rehearsal of the opening. Promptly at 7 the theme played.The opening animation came on the screen. The red lights on the camera flashed. "You're on," the director said.
I began to read the script on the Teleprompter in front of the lens: "Good evening. I'm Larry Lorenz."
The copy is supposed to scroll up as I read. It didn't move.
I turned my eyes to the script in my hand and read. I looked up into the lens, down to the script and back to the lens again. The copy hadn't moved. I kept reading. I spoke the last line into the camera and began to introduce the panel. The copy scrolled in front of my eyes as if a Ritz Hotel security man were at the 'prompter controls.
"The computer froze," the director explained afterwards. "You know those computers."
"Yes," I said. "They're notorious for that."
I went home to watch and listen as a British simple couple told how their friendship with Diana began when she visited their sick daughter and how she sustained it with frequent telephone calls (Of course! Charles and Di must each have had a private line so that she could express her love for the lame, the halt, the blind and her ne'er-do-well society lovers while Charles expressed his obscene desires to Camilla).
"Good morning," I said to my wife.
"The toilet's broken," she replied.
So I was off to the hardware store to buy a new Fluidmaster 200A Toilet Tank Repair Valve. And while the rest of the waking world was watching The Funeral of a Princess, I was installing that. Or, as I had heard Di say so eloquently in a replay of one of her speeches, there I was "with my head down the loo."
They are all fixed now, the dryer, the car, the teleprompter and the toilet. And the fairy tale that was the life of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, is over.
God save the TV set.