The Ballad of Ortolan Kramdar


About ten years ago, I took to eBay and bought a Vectrex, the single most advanced video game system of 1982, featuring a state-of-the-art vector graphics monitor.

The system I got from eBay had a very minor graphical issue that was bugging me. I knew theoretically how to fix it, but I lacked the tools to do it, so I figured I would look online and find a local electronics repair company.

This was easier said than done. Back in the day when your TV broke, you could simply take it to The Guy Who Fixes TVs, and he would fix it, and then you would bring it home. It was an elegant system. Now everything is designed to such a level of complexity that fixing any piece of consumer electronics requires access to a hermetically sealed microchip lab and a scanning electron microscope. Most of The Guys Who Fix TVs have gone out of business.

Still, I searched online to see if there were any electronics repair companies in Roanoke, which was where I was living at the time. After a lot of dead-ends, I found my best bet. According to the brief description I found on Google, there was a place in Roanoke that had been repairing electronics for 30 years. It had a generic name, something like Virginia Home Electronics Repair.

As soon as I saw the listing, I knew this was the place. I imagined the business was located in some dusty, long-forgotten strip mall, the owner a delightful old codger who would know immediately what I needed. I imagined that he would fix my Vectrex while I waited, humming merrily to himself while I sat in the waiting room drinking bad instant coffee and watching an old episode of The Andy Griffith Show on some ancient monolithic Magnavox with a six-inch black and white screen.

I tried calling the number for the business, but no one ever picked up. I figured I would just swing by. I plugged the address for Virginia Home Electronics Repair into my GPS and set off down the road.

Before long, I was convinced my GPS wasn’t working, because it was clearly taking me into a residential area. The imagined dusty strip mall was nowhere in sight, simply row after row of modest homes. When I got to the end of a cul-de-sac, my GPS announced that I had arrived.

I stepped out of my car and looked around. Sure enough, there was a sign hanging in the window of one of the homes: Virginia Home Electronics Repair. There was a name beneath the company logo: Ortolan Kramdar (please note that I have changed the name, but not as much as you’d think).

I knocked on the screen door. Before I’d connected the second knock, I heard a blood-chilling snarling sound, and within seconds, three massive rottweilers were heaving themselves at the screen door, barking and growling, desperate to eat my face. Just before I could sprint back to my car, Ortolan Kramdar appeared.

Imagine, if you will, Jay Leno. Now imagine that Jay Leno had a rough couple of years and took to living in a ditch on the side of a freeway. Now imagine that this parallel universe version of Jay Leno was standing before you in sweatpants and a sweatshirt that were now more dog hair than cotton, picking up three vicious rottweilers one at a time and heaving them into what appeared to be a broom closet.

He stepped onto the porch, staring into my soul with the craziest eyes I have ever seen.

“Graw,” he said. “Helpo there. Ortolan Kramdar.”

I shook his hand. “Hi,” I said, “Is this Virginia Home Electronics Repair?”

“Shnure is,” he said, staring at me intently. “Kramdar.”

I told him about the Vectrex, that it featured a vector graphics monitor and needed a slight adjustment to the Y-axis. I was about two words in when it was clear to me that Ortolan Kramdar was not listening to a word I said, simply staring crazily into the middle distance as my words washed over him and his rottweilers went insane in the closet behind him.

“Anyway,” I said, “do you think that’s something you can fix?”

“Barg,” he said. “Needs cleaning. Progagly got dust. HEY, LOOK AT THAT!”

Kramdar went wide-eyed and pointed at something in the sky. I turned to see an airplane flying in low. This was not a surprise to me since he lived about half a mile from the airport, but apparently the novelty had never worn off for Ortolan Kramdar.

“Welp,” I said, “I should probably roll out. I’ll, uh, take care.”

In preparation for this column, I looked Kramdar up on Facebook, and while I’m sorry to say that his business appears to have closed, I was comforted to find that his Facebook page remains the single most jaw-droppingly insane thing I have ever seen, featuring pictures he has created of himself Photoshopped into a variety of situations, such as serving as the keyboardist for the late 1960s costumed animal band The Banana Splits.

As for the Vectrex, I bought the tools and fixed it myself, a road that has ultimately led to my mildly lucrative hobby of pinball machine repair.

As the old saying goes, if you fix a man’s Vectrex, he plays it for a day, but if you frighten off that man by acting like a deranged weirdo, he’ll teach himself home electronics repair.

I owe you a debt, Ortolan. Tell the hellhounds I said hi.



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