Monday, April 13, 2009

DBTL 21: A Post About Nothing

Warsaw, Polish Commonwealth
20 June 1945

As he replaced the receiver on his telephone, Jerzy Seinfeld gave a broad smile to his friend Elena Benes. "Guess what? That was the PRT. They want me to appear on the inaugural television broadcast!"

"Get OUT!" Elena exclaimed as she shoved Jerzy back a few inches. "Really? Jerzy, that's great! Your parents are going to be so proud!"

"You know what this means, don't you?" said Jerzy. "It means I'm going to have to buy them a television set."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Don't you remember what happened when I bought them that car?"

"Oh, yeah." Jerzy's success as a stand-up comedian had enabled him to purchase a BMW for his parents. However, their neighbors refused to believe that Jerzy made enough money telling jokes to afford such an extravagant gift, and rumors began going around the neighborhood that Jerzy's parents had acquired the car by embezzling money from their synagogue. They had eventually been forced to move.

"Well," Elena finally said, "it's not like they'll be driving a television around the neighborhood." Another thought occurred to her. "How are you going to get one in time? The inaugural broadcast is Monday night, and it takes months to get a television set."

It was at that moment that Jerzy's neighbor Kramer burst into the apartment. "Hi Jerzy, Elena," he said.

"Hi, Kramer," Jerzy and Elena said. Jerzy continued to Elena, "I'm not sure. Maybe someone at the PRT can help me."

"Help you what?" said Kramer as he nonchalantly began searching Jerzy's icebox for fruit.

"The PRT wants Jerzy to appear on their inaugural broadcast Monday night," Elena explained, "and Jerzy wants to get his parents a television set so they can watch."

"Hey, that's no problem," said Kramer. "Rob Sacamano's cousin runs an import business. He can get you a British television," he made a sweeping gesture with his hand, accompanied by an odd pffft sound, "like that. If you want, I can take you to see him tomorrow." Retreiving an apple and two pears from the icebox, Kramer began searching through a drawer for an apple corer.

Jerzy tended to be dubious where Kramer's friend Rob Sacamano was concerned, but it wouldn't hurt to ask. "Sure," he said, "it's worth a try."

"In that case," said Kramer, "I'll see you tomorrow morning." Waving the apple corer at the two of them, Kramer slipped out the door.


Warsaw, Polish Commonwealth
21 June 1945

The next morning, Jerzy joined Kramer in the cab of a flatbed lorry as he drove to the Sacamano Trading Company. They were accompanied by Jerzy's friend Gheorghe Costanescu, who, upon hearing about the expedition from Jerzy, had decided to tag along and see if he could acquire a Swiss watch.

Kramer drove the lorry across the Poniatowski bridge to Praga. From there they went down a series of twisted roads leading north along the river until they finally came to a dilapidated warehouse. One look at their destination and Jerzy felt himself becoming alarmed.

"Kramer," he said, "are you sure this is such a good idea?"

"Don't worry, Jerzy," Kramer assured him. "Rob's cousin is strictly on the up-and-up."

Gheorghe seemed indifferent to the building's looks, so Jerzy gave in and followed Kramer to a rusted door on the south face of the warehouse. Kramer gave a complicated series of knocks, and a small panel set within the door slid aside. Two suspicious eyes glared out at them.

"Rob sent me," Kramer murmured.

The panel slid shut again, and the three men waited for an awkwardly long time before the door creaked open to admit them.

It took a moment for Jerzy's eyes to adjust from the bright summer sunshine to the gloom within the warehouse. When they had, he started wishing they hadn't. The rusty door debouched into a small office with a shabby desk and a dented metal file cabinet. Apparently nobody had bothered to sweep up the floor since the beginning of the century, and most of the paint had peeled off the office's walls.

The owner of the suspicious eyes, a bulky man in stained overalls, growled out, "Wait here," and disappeared through another door into the interior of the warehouse. Jerzy was nerving himself to flee back outside when the interior door opened again and a weaselly man with a patchy mustache entered. He smiled a gap-toothed smile at the three of them and said, "What can I do for you gentlemen?"

"My friend here would like to buy a television set," said Kramer.

The weaselly man pursed his lips and sucked air for a moment before saying, "I dunno, been a pretty big demand for televisions lately, what with the PRT set to start broadcasting and all. Might run ya a few złoty."

"That's all right," said Jerzy, who was now looking for an excuse to forget the whole thing. "If you don't have one, you don't have one. My parents can listen on the radio."

"Oh, you want to get one for your parents," exclaimed the weasel. "Hey, that's great, wish my kids would do something nice like that for me. In that case, I can make you a special deal. We just got a shipment of television sets from Yugoslavia, I was holding a few back for some special clients of mine, but for a man who knows how to treat his parents right, I can let one go for only 4500 złotys."

"We'll take it," said Kramer, and before he knew it, Jerzy was counting out nine 500-złoty notes. The weasel slipped back into the warehouse for a minute before emerging in front of the man in the overalls, who was wheeling out a crate on a dolly. While they were waiting for the man with the dolly to return, the weasel said, "Is there anything else I can do for you gentlemen?"

"Have you got any Swiss watches?" said Gheorghe.

The weasel's smile turned to a suspicious frown, and he said, "Are you with Gestwicki's bunch?"

"Um, n-no," Gheorghe stammered.

"I ain't got no Swiss watches," the weasel growled. "I think you'd all better leave. Now."


As Jerzy and Gheorghe wrestled the crate up the stairs to the apartment, Jerzy said, "I didn't even know they made television sets in Yugoslavia."

"Oh yeah," said Kramer as he observed from the next landing up. "Best electrical appliance makers in Europe. In Sarajevo they've practically cornered the market on toasters."

"And what have they got against Swiss watches?" Gheorghe wondered.

"And who's Gestwicki?" said Jerzy.

Kramer looked around nervously, "Oh, you don't want to get mixed up with Gestwicki, he's bad news." When Jerzy asked him what he meant, Kramer just shook his head. He had apparently said all he was prepared to say on the subject of Gestwicki.

When they had the crate in Jerzy's apartment they opened it up and had a look at the set. It was about a meter and a half long, a meter high, and half a meter thick. There was a V-shaped antenna rising from the back, and a round glass screen 30 centimeters across in front. The brand name was incised below the screen, next to the control knobs.

"Milosevic?" said Jerzy. "What kind of brand name is that?"


Warsaw, Polish Commonwealth
22 June 1945

"Jerzy!" exclaimed Helen Seinfeld. "What are you doing here?"

"I've got good news, Ma," said Jerzy. "I'm going to be on television!"

"Television?" said Jerzy's father Moshe, "what's that?"

"Dear, you know about television," Helen reminded him. "We read about it in the paper last week. It's like radio, only with pictures."

"Oh yeah," said Moshe. "Do they let Jews on television?"

"Apparently they do," said Jerzy, "since they asked me."

"Do we know anybody with a television set?" Helen asked her husband.

"I don't think we do," said Moshe.

"You do now," said Jerzy. Leaning back out the door, he called, "bring it on in."

As Jerzy held open the door to his parents' apartment, Gheorghe Costanescu carefully rolled in the television set, which was resting on a wheeled platform.

"My God, Jerzy, what is it?" Helen wondered.

"It's a television set, Ma. I bought it so you and Pop could watch me Monday night."

"It looks complicated," said Helen. "How does it work?"

"It's just like a radio," said Jerzy. "This knob turns it on and controls the volume, and this knob tunes in the station."

"A television set!" Helen exclaimed. "And our Jerzy's going to be on it Monday night!"

"I'll believe it when I see it," said Moshe.


Warsaw, Polish Commonwealth
25 June 1945

Jerzy had been allowed to bring one guest with him to the PRT studio, and he had, to Gheorghe's dismay, chosen to bring Elena. The two of them were in the green room, which had been catered with tea and biscuits. Elena was suffering from fame overload from all the celebrities she had met in the last hour. Jerzy was listening to her enthuse over a brief conversation with Władysław Strzemiński when he noticed the show's producer motioning to him. He could tell from the man's expression that it was bad news.

"Jerzy," he said, "I'm afraid Pola Negri's segment ran too long. We're going to have to bump you from the show."

Jerzy sighed and said, "Is there a phone around here I can use? I'd better call my parents and let them know I won't be on tonight after all."

"At least they've still got a brand-new television set," Elena pointed out.


Sisak, Croatian Devo, Kingdom of Yugoslavia
7 June 1945

Ante Novaselic was outraged. "What's the meaning of this new change order?"

Nikola Pelko, chief engineer of the Milosevic Electronics Works, said, "We've fallen behind schedule. We have to ship these television sets by tomorrow. There isn't time to solder the valve array plates. We'll have to glue them in place."

"But the glue will never hold!" Novaselic shouted. "As soon as the sets get hot enough it will melt! And if the valve array plate comes loose, the unit could go off like a bomb!"

"Do you want to be the one to tell that to Old Man Milosevic?" said Pelko.

Novaselic shook his head.

"Then tell the men to grab their glue guns. We've got a deadline to meet!"

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