It’s funny-when you have been overseas and away from home for an extended period of time like I have these past 17 years-how you start thinking about something back home that you haven’t thought about for sometime and then before you know you find yourself and your mind wandering down memory lane waxing nostalgic.

It can be anything like your Mom’s cooking, the sweet smell of freshly mown grass or sitting on the porch on a hot summer night with a tall glass of iced tea watching lightning bugs flicker on and off that opens the floodgate for all those memories to pour out and for you to feel a little (or a lot depending on how long these memories have been stored away) homesick.

On the other hand, it might be something that you have never thought about before or something that one might not normally associate with waxing nostalgic, especially when you are living and working overseas.

It can even be something really weird and bizarre.

Today it was tubes.

That’s right, vacuum tubes and electron tubes-TV tubes, radio tubes, and amplifier tubes.


Now, you are probably asking yourself, “How on earth did he start thinking about tubes? For crying out loud he’s an English teacher in Korea! Maybe if it were The Tubes, one of his favorite bands and listening to their classic teenage angst anthem “White Punks on Dope” I could understand, but tubes-vacuum and electron tubes? Maybe he’s been in Korea too long.”

I won’t argue the “I’ve been in Korea too long” spiel (17 years is too long) but interestingly enough, the topic of tubes came up in class today right after I taught my students “it’s a little chilly out there today” and “it’s a little on the chilly side.” Well, this tube topic didn’t really come up in class per se; I sort of brought it up in my mind when I was teaching the class some vocabulary about jobs and occupations. We were talking about A/S (After Service) which is a kind of warranty service provided by companies like Samsung that sends a repairman round to your house or apartment if your Samsung product is on the blink (not surprising, Samsung has the best A/S in Korea.)

Well, one thing led to another and I mentioned we had the same thing where a repairman (or repair person) sometimes made “house calls” like a TV repairman and then, this got me thinking later after class as I walked home about the times a TV repairman came to our home to fix our TV and more often than not had to change some of the tubes in the TV.

I can still remember the TV repairman showing up with this huge toolbox, which sort of resembled a tackle box. When he opened it there were these trays filled with all sorts of tubes in different sizes and shapes. He would take off the back of the TV and then start testing the tubes to see which one(s) had burned out and needed to be replaced. Most of times that’s what it was just a burned out tube. Of course, once the picture tube went, well that’s when it was time for a new TV.

Sometimes if the TV went on the blink, Mom would tell us to turn it off for a few minutes and let the tubes cool down and turn it back on. This worked temporarily-about as well as a couple of aspirin for a toothache-but sooner or later, like having that tooth looked at, you were going to have to take a look at those tubes, if that’s all it took to get that TV working again.

Of course, if you were a DIY-er and wanted to save a few bucks and having to wait around all day for the TV repairman to show up, I do recall a “tube-tester” at Wool-worth’s as well as Sear’s and if I am not mistaken K-Mart where you would bring in your tubes to test. First, you had to buy these tiny stickers with numbers/letters on them; next you would stick a “number” or “letter” on the tube and a corresponding number/letter in the receptacle so you wouldn’t get confused with where which tube went where when you put them back later. Then, it was off to have your tubes tested to see if any of them needed to replaced.

Hopefully, that would be the only thing wrong with your TV and after you figured out which tubes were bad, you could buy the new ones there. Once back home you’d put them back in (making sure to match the tubes with the right receptacle) and if you had done everything right, you’d have TV again.

My grandfather was a good one for doing this-testing the TV tubes himself-but when it came to radios he had another way. One of his hobbies and passions (at one time he wanted to be a radio repairman, but then World War II came along) was tinkering around with old radios he salvaged from his refuse route in LaSalle, Illinois. He would cannibalize the tubes from one radio and put them in another. I don’t think he ever bought a new radio or a radio tube in his life.

His workbenches in the basement and in his warehouse-cum-garage were a literal treasure trove of Philco, RCA Victor, Emerson and Zenith radios along with their guts and tubes that went inside. Even the short wave radio in the basement was one that he had salvaged and restored with tubes found in other radios.

What I remember most about some of those radios, and especially the Philco on top of the refrigerator or the one my grandfather had above his workbench (the one he used to listen to ballgames from another time zone) was how those tubes hummed when the radio was turned on and the tubes heated up. Aside from the usual static and other pops and crackles, that humming sound always seemed so warm and glowing.

Years later, when I was a roadying for The Jerks, a band from the Illinois Valley (two of the band’s founding members, Dick Verucchi and Alan Thacker had been in an-other popular Illinois Valley band Buckacre before forming The Jerks in 1979) the band used these vintage Marshall and Peavey amplifiers which were powered by various vacuum tubes. The sound from those amps was always so full-bodied with deep, rich resonating, reverberating, and resounding tones.

And that’s how I ended up thinking about and waxing nostalgic about tubes today.

You know, life might be simpler in this digital, semi-conductor, micro-chip age but it would be nice to have some of those old tubes around again and make life less cold and antiseptic. Just as much as I miss listening to some of my favorite songs on vinyl, I miss hear the humming of an amplifier or a radio. Hopefully, one day I will be able to hear those warm, comforting sounds again.