James Lipton, the host of the TV series Inside the Actors Studio was one of the clients I had the longest, from the nineties up until his passing in 2020. Just like I save the magazines that contain my published articles, Jim saved his television appearances. He taped everything by recording on VCR, but when he wanted copies, it became a problem. The issue with copying tapes is that the video quality seriously deteriorates each time a copy is made.
I found a solution for James: the then-just-released GoVideo VCR, introduced around the mid-1990s. It was a double-slotted VCR tape deck that was great at duplicating VCR tapes. You could make copies of VHS tapes at high speed with no significant loss of quality. The GoVideo machine pretty much solved the problem.
Not long after its debut, issues arose. GoVideo was sued by the powers that be in Hollywood over copyright infringement issues. In other words, because of the GoVideo VCR’s ability to copy movies. GoVideo had their moment, but within a year of their initial release they shut down. But Jim had his and it was seriously employed.
A GoVideo dual-VCR deck.
Down the road, I installed one of the first TiVo DVRs at Jim’s, and while that offered standard (480i), resolution, it was higher video quality than VHS. This was around 1999.
Jim’s townhouse was on East 80th Street. He and his wife, Kedakai, lived on the second, third and fourth floors, with rental dental office occupying the street level. My service calls were for his video system, for installing equipment or for repairing or correcting problems, and I was his go-to guy for tech.
He often showed me his recent appearances on the various late-night shows like The Late Show with David Letterman. When flat screens became the rage, he wanted one. He asked me over to go shopping with him, so along with one of his production assistants, we took a cab to the Best Buy on 86th Street. Getting out of the taxi, we had to cross the street.
We were jaywalking across 86th and cars were zipping by. People were yelling out their car windows. “Hey Jim!” “Hey James!” he waved back; he loved it. Entering Best Buy, we bumped into two New York City cops who were just inside the door, escorting out a suspect. Seeing Jim, they turned from their suspect to him and said hello. The handcuffed arrestee was just standing there, looking annoyed. Jim then told the cops the story of when Dave Chappell called him from stage during a gig and incorporated the live call into his act. 10 minutes later the cops, thoroughly entertained and impressed, said goodbye to Jim, and escorted their prisoner out.
We took the escalator down to the television department and out of nowhere comes this loud voice: “Ken Sander is in the house; what the hell are you doing here?” It’s Paul Johnson, one of my former employees, a repair technician who now worked for Best Buy as a supervisor for their Geek Squad. Paul was helpful and walked Jim though his television choices. He wound up buying a 47-inch Samsung LCD. After the purchase Jim’s production assistant said to us, “damn, I’m with some famous people.” On the street, everyone knows James Lipton but here, Ken is the famous one. OK, an exaggeration of our realities, but it was flattering nonetheless.
James Lipton and Ken Sander. Courtesy of Ken Sander.
Whenever he had any tech issues, Jim would personally call me to come over. He didn’t want phone advice; he expected me to be there and solve the issue. It had to be the same day or the very next morning. This was understandable, because he was on the air weekly, and that required mucho prep and research. After all, he did insightful and detailed interviews. The fact that I was so responsive was a big part of our relationship, not to mention I was good at this stuff, back then anyway. He had thank you notes from the most famous movie and Broadway stars all over his townhouse.
One evening I was leaving Jim’s townhouse and my cell rang, and I hesitated to look at it and got caught between the inner door and the outer door. I was locked in, stuck. I called Jim and it went straight to voice mail. I tried calling a few more times and now I imagined that I might have to spend the night there.
Finally, seeing no other options, I called 911. About 10 minutes later I saw a patrol car slowly pulling over. The cop got out, checked the address and saw me, but he was hesitant to come over. I put both of my palms on the window pane so he could see I was not a threat. Still, he was looking at me suspiciously. He slowly came over and asked, “what’s going on?” I told him I was locked in. He gave me a “yeah, right!” look, but since he was outside, I asked him to ring the townhouse’s doorbell. Kedakai answered, and he identified himself as the police and asked her to come down.
Within a minute Kedakai came down the stairs. She was shocked and surprised to see me locked in the vestibule and she assured the police officer that she knew me. When I explained to them to how I got locked in, she nodded in understanding, but was upset for me and immediately apologetic. The next time I came for a service call they gave me a bottle of wine.
One night I was making a call to sports broadcaster Greg Gumbel’s apartment on 57th Street, and when I was walking back to my car I had to walk east across fifth Avenue. I was on the east side of Fifth just south of 57th and on the other side of the street was Donald Trump and his then-wife Marla Maples. My goodness, she was beautiful. It was close to 10:00 p.m. and the sidewalk was empty. They were deep in conversation and I could feel some tension. Another time, around 9:00 at night, I was alone on the northern meridian of Park Avenue and 70th Street waiting for the light to change. This is a residential area (if you can use that term in the city). I heard sirens and saw a caravan of police and security. The flashing police lights were heading up the slight incline on Park Avenue towards me, with maybe five police cars in the front and back of the caravan. In the middle of the police cars were a couple of unmarked security vehicles, all surrounding a limousine.
They got to 70th Street and turned westward toward Madison Avenue. As the limo slowed to turn I looked into the passenger section. It was no more than 15 or 20 feet away from me and the interior light was on, and inside the limo was none other than Pope John Paul II. He was looking out the window and saw me and waved to me. Then I remembered hearing that the Pope was in town.
One day I got a call from a trusted client. He wanted me to do an installation up in Harlem – a nightclub, and they wanted all their televisions connected or daisy chained so they could show the same video content on all screens simultaneously. I was a little concerned. It is safe to say it was out of my normal territory. Not a fancy address; it was on 127th Street, just west of Park Avenue.
It was a warm summer night, and I parked my car on 127th. Lots of folks were out. It seemed like the whole neighborhood was outside standing around and chitchatting. All the houses were turn-of-the-century brownstone buildings with stoops. This part of Harlem was not a fancy area, no high-rise buildings. Carrying my canvas Klein tool bag that showed that I was working, I climbed the up the stoop of an unimpressive brownstone building and rang the bell. It was little unusual, because it was the only bell rather than the usual group of ringers in an apartment building. I got rung in and still saw nothing special, just a hallway to an apartment door.
As I approached the apartment the door opened for me. Inside it was luxurious; the building was transformed. I entered a large ballroom with beautiful wood floors, and there was a stage on one side of the room. The high ceiling had beautiful fixtures with hanging lights. High-end wouldn’t begin to describe it.
Apparently, they had at least three of those brownstones joined together, with no walls separating the buildings. Unbelievable; from the street outside there was no clue that this place existed. All you saw was a row of these same unimpressive hundred-year-old brownstones.
I have lived in the city most of my life. During the time I worked as the Cable Doctor I was out doing these house calls on weekday nights. These were quiet nights; school nights, and most working people were home. Consequently, you saw and noticed things. I considered myself to be in the loop, but these nighttime calls made for a different perspective. I didn’t feel like it was a dangerous experience, but I witnessed some quick and subtle happenings, up close and personal.
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone.