Monday, July 19, 2004

Damn silent buzzers!

When I was a kid my old man picked up a part time job at a local retail store for some extra Christmas cash. He’s always been good with his hands, as I’ve mentioned before, and was the on site Fix-It guy. They used to tolerate my presence when he’d bring me along with him, dogging his heels and completely enthralled with his endless wealth of fix-it knowledge.

In the stockroom was another separate, fenced-in stockroom with an electromagnetic door where the high-end electronics were kept. A camera was aimed at the door where a telephone hung beside the handle. To get in you grabbed the phone, looked at the camera, and asked security to let you in. Security verified you visually, pressed a silent button that temporarily switched off the magnet, and voila the door opened with ease. As long as he was pushing that button, you could open that door.

One evening my dad got a call from the store manager that the door wasn’t locking, anyone could walk by and pull it open without Security clearing them. Dad told me to wash up and jump in the truck and we headed up there right away as requested. I followed him to the 57 Lockup where he looped one finger through the handle and the door opened as smooth as butter.

“Looks like the transformer blew. I got a spare.” I followed him to the loft, which was really just a room accessible via ladder where he hid parts and tools so people wouldn’t walk off with them. He carried the transformer over to the electrical room and stared at the rainbow assortment of wires. My old man is colorblind, but you’d never know it by his handy work.

He switched out the transformers, holding alternating wires together to match them up and make sure he was tying the right ones together. The two of us walked back to the 57 Lockup and he looped a finger through the handle. Again, the door slid open. “Shit. Must have my wires crossed.” He walked back to the transformer, me in tow. He pulled off the caps and untwisted the wires, holding them side by side again trying to differentiate between shades of gray to get the colors right this time.

We walked the long distance back to the stockroom and when my dad reached for the door I hoped for his blood pressure's sake it would stick this time. No such luck. The door breezed open and my dad swung it back shut. “Dammit!” This time I had to trot to keep up with him as he bent his head down and stalked with determination back to the electrical room. “Must not be the transformer.” He unwired the new one and put the old one back in place, a bead of sweat dripping off the end of his nose. For the first time he asked me, “Boy, are these the same color?” I nodded and he twisted them together, dropping the other transformer back into a box and sighing deeply. He checked the other connections, tinkered with some shit that meant nothing to me and mumbled something like, “That should do it.”

Once again, we headed to the 57 Lockup. I held my breath, my own heart pounding, fully aware of my dad’s reaction if that door came open. This time he grabbed it with his whole hand and jerked, throwing it wide open effortlessly. “FUCKING SON OF A BITCH GODDAMNED DOOR!” He flung the door shut so hard it slammed and bounced back open again. About that time the security phone rang. My dad turned and looked at the camera, aware Security had just seen him throw a fit. He answered it, not even trying to hide his bad attitude.

“Yeah?” he shouted into the receiver.

“Robert?” I could hear the man say.


“Are you going in there or not?” the voice asked.

He looked down at me and I could see the dawning of realization. "What are you talking about?"

"Hell, I keep seeing you walk up so I’ve been hitting the button, but you never walk in!”