As someone who, many moons ago as
an electrician, made lots of service calls to both households and businesses, I
am somewhat familiar with the whims and quirks of strangers who have summoned you
to his or her place in order to be serviced. Most are courteous in a business-like
manner and expect you to get the job done in the most efficient and effective manner
as possible in order to keep the cost down. Time and material is the usual
modus operandi for
service calls. On occasion a customer would stand around and talk about the job
at hand - what caused the problem, how it would be repaired, and how to avoid a
repeat in the future. Others were just gabby, which I didn't mind as long as it
didn't get in the way of completing my appointed task. The problem comes when the
person acts like you are to blame for whatever bedevils them and nothing you do
is good enough, whether you are presumably too slow, too stupid, too unwilling to
take sage advice, etc. Those types are the bane of a serviceman's existence. Do
the world a favor and determine you will never join their ranks.
Television in 1950: "Turn off that set, you Tele-peeping Tom,
By Lee Sheldon
The handling of a customer is not an exact science, but rather something that
is an acquired sixth sense. It will pay to know.
Jessup, Jessup, Jonathan Jessup, I said to myself, reading the next call, where
have I heard that name before? Oh, well - what's the difference, I thought. The
day's card is plenty full, and I've no time for special attention.
When I pressed the button, a dreamy-eyed young fellow opened the door. My partner
tells me always to be courteous, but when business is brisk, I believe it's better
to be brief.
"Salutary Sales & Service," I slurred.
"Ah, yes," he drawled. "Come in and sit down. Have a smoke?"
"I'm busy today," I replied.
"Where's the set, and what's wrong with it?"
He threw one leg over an end table, rippled his wavy hair, and quoted:
" 'Work is a means of living, but it is not living.' Relax a while, as the worthy
Holland suggests, and let me explain why I summoned you."
"Listen, buddy," I said impatiently, "the worthy Holland never had my competition.
What's more, I respect my landlord a lot more than some stranger with a squeaky
quill and too much spare time. In short, I can't wait for any Dutch treats. Where's
that broken-down wireless?"
"I'll come to the point," he said. "I have just returned from a yachting trip
in the Caribbean. My battery portable caused me considerable disappointment. A beautiful
thing, but - as Keats so aptly put it: 'Silken, chaste, but hushed.' For a while
I was so angry I nearly consigned the beastly box to Pluto."
He breathed deeply, walked across the room, and hooked one leg over the back
of a chair.
"Well?" I prompted, "what do you want me for?"
"'Give me,'" he recited, "'some music; music, moody food of us that trade in
There's no sentiment in my business make-up.
'Who said that?" I asked sarcastically, picking up my tool-bag.
"The Bard," he replied.
"He should be," I sneered, stepping into the hall and slamming the door.
It's things like that that clutter up a repairman's day. If he had work for me,
why couldn't he come out and say so?
Later, when I came into the shop, I told Al about it. As usual, he found fault.
"Well, my little incident-provoker," he said, "it's perfectly obvious the customer
was trying to explain he lugged a battery set all the way up from the Equator so
it could be repaired by a local man. And you walked out on him!"
"Do I have to know everything to be in business?" I yelled. If someone wants
a set fixed, all they have to do is say so!"
"A businessman," Al oracled, "must know at least a little of many things to help
him in his continuous encounters with all sorts of customers. He must learn to meet
a person's subject or mood as closely as possible."
Television in 1950. "Turn off that set, you Tele-peeping Tom, you ...!"
"But this bloke was feeding me a bunch of classical cornicisms," I protested.
"How could I answer if I didn't understand them?"
"You could have listened," Al pointed out. "And you should be prepared to do
more than that on the average call. Everything a serviceman learns adds to his business
background: philosophy, math, golf, astronomy. All these, and many others, whether
or not formally acquired, come in handily while you earn a living. Earning and learning
aren't so far apart. Even the smallest details of a news item become important when
a wavering set owner brings them up."
"I get it," I snarled. "The three R's aren't enough. Before I can install a bypass,
I gotta study Byron, Brahms, and Bacon. Math," I conceded, "might be all right in
its place - but what store owner can find a place for it?"
"All things," Al said, with a great show of patience, "are an expression of some
"I know, Al - but look," I pleaded.
"I insist the five minutes spent in soldering in a resistor is more important
than five months' education. What is the sense of getting a B.A. degree when all
you have to know to sell a tube is which end to stick in the socket? When a customer
calls me, it's because he wants a radio technician, pure and simple."
"You're half qualified," my partner laughed. "Seriously - when a repairman answers
a call, his conversation plays an important part in the deal. As you say, soldering
a resistor is what gets the money; but poor palaver often denies him the chance
"So I'm dumb," I replied resignedly.
"I'll shut down early from now on and go to night school."
"You don't need to," Al said, sarcastic in a way only a business partner is able.
"If you come across a customer you don't understand well enough to talk with, just
listen. Incidentally - I've watched while some of our clients were talking to you.
During such occasions, you have no more poise than a man falling downstairs."
"Next time," I promised, "I'll stand there with a straight back and a crooked
smile. Even if the customer talks Pluto to me!"
"Why - don't you know who Pluto is?" Al asked.
"Of course," I said, "he's - uh - secretary of the internal regions!"
"Very often," Al laughed. "You'll learn some day, if you stay in business long
enough, that you must advance with all your mental equipment if you are to be a
"Pretty stiff order," I remarked, "for the dough we earn."
Al pulled his hand down over his face in a "slow burn."
"Aw - go crawl back into the ooze" he exploded.
Jessup came in the store that evening with the battery portable under his arm.
Al - although he had never seen him before - called him by name.
"Scrooge & Marley's, I believe," Jessup said, pleased by my partner's recognition.
"Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?"
There were some loose tubes on the counter; I moved them as a precautionary measure.
Sure enough, Jessup threw one leg over the corner.
"I," Al replied, imitating Jonathan's phoney phonetics, "am Mr. Scrooge."
"Have a cigarette," Jessup said, glancing at me significantly, " - or are you
in a hurry, too?"
"Not at all, Al said, throwing his leg companionably over the other corner of
the counter. "By the way - how's Jenkins making out?"
"Very nicely, thanks," Jessup replied. "Here - give this set what it needs. As
Emerson said: 'A gentleman makes no noise.' This portable may be gentlemanly, but
in its present state, it's not very entertaining!"
"I get it," Al laughed. "Want me to call you after I figure the price?"
"Don't bother," J. J. answered from the door, "unless the repair costs more than
the set. Adios!"
I turned to Al. "Not bad handling," I was forced to admit. "But how'd you know
he was Jessup - and who is this Jenkins ?"
"I go to the movies," Al replied, "So I knew he was a character actor. He played
the part of a Mr. Jenkins in his last picture. Part of my background to keep posted."
"What about that double talk?" I persisted, swallowing my pride. "What was this
'Scrooge and Marley' business?"
"An old partnership," Al replied, "that you'd know about if you took time off
from sleeping to read Dickens' Christmas Carol."
"That makes me Marley," I said, catching on. "Who was he?"
"Why don't you read your own books?" Al replied. "Marley was the dead partner!"
Sometimes even Al goes too far.
Posted February 8, 2022