The dog is barking. The baby is crying. Good conditions for setting up the new DVD player. The only way this could get better is if the guy next door fired up his chain saw.
"I need quiet," I tell my wife.
"Then you're in the wrong house," she explains.
There are a few wires with the new DVD player. Not many. One hundred of them lay on the hardwood floor in unruly globs. Nothing connects the way the instructions describe. It's like an adventure in bad biology -- like trying to mate an orangutan with a giraffe.
"I don't think the DVD fits into this TV," I tell my wife.
"Here, let me see," she says, grabbing the instructions.
Then she asks me a bunch of personal questions. Should the cable connect here? Should that be an S-video cord? Did you really graduate from college? Where'd you hide the Christmas Scotch? That sort of thing.
"Here," I say, taking the directions.
"Where are you going?" she asks.
And I open the door and start to fling the directions into the backyard.
"That's not the answer," she says.
"You're right," I say. "I'll burn them in the fireplace."
"Dad's not very technical," observes the older daughter.
"Shouldn't you be back at college?" I ask.
"And miss this?" she says.
In my mind, I am a genius at electronics. There is not a problem that if given a reasonable amount of time -- say, four years -- I have not been able to solve. Not very technical? Then neither was Thomas Edison.
"What are you doing, Daddy?" the little girl asks as I lie in desperation on the hardwood floor, my nose inches from some pine needle I missed with the broom.
"Reconsidering my life," I say.
"Your wife?" she asks.
"Her too," I say.
We are in the mean season right after Christmas, when fathers have to grovel on the living room floor with the rest of the lower food chain. Cats. Dogs. Kids.
Our knees are sore from all the kneeling, long afternoons on synthetic turf trying to make sense of the new gadgets. In America, we are currently under siege by gadgets. Let me tell you, the gadgets are winning.
"I haven't read the paper in a week," one friend complains. "I spend all my time trying to download digital images."
Fire wires. USB ports. Hard drives. Soft drives. We're under attack from all this stuff. Our homes are becoming electronics battlegrounds. Revenge of the nerds.
"Why doesn't anybody buy me books anymore," I say as I study the manual, apparently written in Serbo-Croatian.
"You're just not very technical," my wife says.
"I'm a genius at electronics," I tell her. "I'm just not all that technical."
"I see," she lies.
Two hours later, I send the boy over to Radio Shack. A new driver, he's willing to run any errand at any time. Seriously. Need a loaf of bread at 2 a.m., just give him a call.
"Find something that connects to that," I say.
"No, that," I say.
"OK," and off he goes twirling the car keys.
I give his little expedition a 5% chance of success. In fact, that may be high. Amelia Earhart has a better chance of landing on your front lawn than this poor kid has of returning with the right video cable.
In 45 minutes, he is back.
"I got lost," he says.
"Did you find the connection?"
"Twenty bucks," he says.
"You're a savvy shopper," I tell him.
"Thanks," he says.
He hands me a small black box the size of a paperback. It helps adapt this to this to this. But we don't have a this. We have a that. This connects to that.
I rummage around the back of the TV trying to find another way. Video in. Video out. Audio in. Audio out. Insanity in. Insanity out. I try them all.
"That seems to be working," my wife says when we finally get a video image.
"Of course it is," I say.
"Dad fixed it?" the older daughter sputters.
"He's pretty good," explains the little girl.
"I'll go rent some DVDs," says the boy.
A dog barks. A baby wails. A front door slams. And I move on to something else. A new camera. They say they're pretty easy.