At the Belmont Public Library In the 50s I read every word in the magazines Popular Science, Popular Electronics, Popular Mechanics and the Scientific American. I learned that a television picture tube had a powerful magnet on a metal sleeve that was attached to its neck, which served to focus the beams of electrons as they hit the phosphor-covered screen. My own experiments with our TV in the living room confirmed this rather simple little fact.
Always eager to prove to my father that I was an enormously bright little boy, and thus worthy of his admiration and love, I devised what I thought was a brilliant plan. Early each morning for a week, when he was fast asleep upstairs, I opened up the back of the TV and moved the magnet about an eighth of an inch. Over that period the picture became dimmer and dimmer, until one evening my father finally angrily said, “Goddamned fuckin’ TV!”
“Dad, I think I know what’s wrong with it.”
“It just needs an adjustment. I read about it in a magazine the other day.”
“No, you can’t fool around with a TV. It’s too dangerous.”
“Trust me, I know how to fix it.”
He squinted, which he always did when he needed to really think hard. Finally he waved his hand, and said, “Go ahead, then.”
I made a big show of unscrewing the TV’s fiberboard back, and shining a flashlight inside, and then gently twisting the sleeved magnet back to where it was before I’d moved it.
I turned on the TV. The screen lit up brightly, just as good as new.
My father shook his head. “Jesus.”
It was a most grudging approval, but I eagerly took whatever I could get. Of course later he forgot about my brilliance, and I had to find new ways to get his approval.
In September, 1954, he gave me a particularly severe belt whipping. I don’t recall what I’d done to provoke it, but I felt he was being arbitrary and unfair, and it made me mad, and I looked for a way to get revenge.
In my basement laboratory I'd built a replica of Marconi’s first radio transmitter, using an old neon sign transformer I found in an alley behind the Avalon bar, and a long wire antenna I put up to pull in short wave radio signals. When I fired my transmitter up, I noticed that the massive blast of wide-spectrum radio frequency waves turned a TV picture to snow and noise.
Ah. I got another brilliant inspiration.
That year the Cleveland Indians were the hottest team in baseball. Pitchers like Bob Lemon and Early Wynn were spectacular with 23 wins. Mike Garcia had 19 and Bob Feller, the old-timer, got 13. Bobby Avila gave the Indians their first batting title in ten years with his .341 average. Al Rosen hit .300, the only Indian player besides Avila to reach that figure. Larry Doby hit 32 home runs and 126 runs-batted-in, tops in the league in both categories. The Indians won 111 games, breaking the league record of 110 set by the Yankees when Babe Ruth played in 1927, and it was great that WE ended their five-year streak of pennant wins.
Early in the season my father didn’t pay much attention, but then finally he just had to watch the Indians play the Giants in the world series at the Polo Grounds in New York. I stayed in the basement, watching my junky TV, waiting for just the right moment.
The score was tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning. Starting pitcher Sal Maglie walked Larry Doby and gave up a single to Al Rosen With runners on first and second, Giants manager Leo Durocher called in left-handed relief pitcher Don Liddle to replace Maglie and pitch to Cleveland's Wertz, also a left-hander.
I hit the switch of the transmitter. The screen turned to noisy snow.
“Jesus H. Fucking CHRIST!” I heard my father shouting upstairs. “Goddamned worthless fucking TV!”
I bent over, trying hard to stifle my laughter.
Of course with my jamming we both missed seeing one of the greatest defensive plays in baseball. Which was Willie Mays’ spectacular catch over his shoulder in deep center field, which deprived the Indians of what would have been a a 5-2 lead and an important first series victory.
I read all about it in the next day’s Youngstown Vindicator. That catch, a columnist said, would go into the history books. Oh, well. Hearing my father’s impotent fury upstairs was worth it. Payback's a bitch, eh?