Recently we were sitting at the dinner table with my parents and somehow memories of old socialist products came up. We began thinking about what products we used to have back then, which ones we loved and missed and which ones we are better without. I even took out my smartphone to google for images of them and so the evening became quite loud with “aws”, “ahs” and “ews” and distant memories of socialist times.

One thing led to another, and my mom reminded us of our old tube TV that we had to be violent with from time to time in order to function. When our fists did not help there was only one thing left to do: call Nicu.

Nicu was a special guy, that is how my parents explained it to me as a child. He was around 30 back then, tall, quite good-looking, and very put together. If you just saw him on the street, you would not notice that anything was wrong with him. He was autistic and that became obvious if you came in closer contact with him.

Nicu had a weakness for TVs. He spent most of his childhood and adulthood with his head stuck in TVs. He knew TV sets inside out and he would talk about them unless you forced him to.

Even if it was a fact that there was absolutely nobody else besides Nicu who could fix any problem with TVs, my parents always hesitated to call him and waited until there was no way out. There were two main reasons for this: the first reason was that once he had repaired the TV it was almost impossible to get him out of the apartment. He would stay and stay and stay and talk about TVs, even after my parents had put me in bed and told him several times that we had to get up really early in the morning.

The second reason was more organic: his feet always smelled like cheese gone bad. The whole apartment filled with it so much that even airing it for a longer time did not help. The smell stuck with us despite my mom’s desperate tries to get it out or spray it over with different stuff.

The thing was, there was absolutely no way to persuade him to keep his shoes on. He was too polite and knew that taking off one’s shoes was the most respectful thing one could do when entering somebody else’s home.

It had become a ritual to fight with him when he entered our apartment. My parents brought the strongest arguments to persuade him to leave them on and Nicu always responded with even stronger ones while he was carrying out the movement of putting his hands on his shoes and opening his laces. My parents desperately tried to block his hands or to offer him a cloth to clean the soles of his shoes so that he would feel comfortable keeping them on. Nothing. The shoes always came off and our stomachs were always disturbed. Every single time.

Nicu had his ritual with the TV. He went behind it, rolled up his sleeves, gently touched it carefully the way a doctor touched his patient, and said, “Let’s see what we got here!” Then he disappeared into the TV.

In the happiest cases, Nicu was able to fix the TV right ahead. However, sometimes he discovered that a new part needed to be bought. That meant that he was to come back again, and we had to go through the drama with the shoes, the smell, and the overstaying his welcome all over again.

Everybody knew, loved, and respected Nicu. We sometimes invited him to the Vikkend park where we used to have barbecue parties on weekends.

On one occasion somebody had a bicycle and asked who wanted to ride it. Nicu quickly answered that he would. We were skeptical, but he assured us that he absolutely could ride a bike. Nicu got on the bike and after an insecure start, he was able to ride straight ahead. We were all cheering and watching him while he was headed directly towards the lake. When we realized that he did not know how to steer the wheel to the left or the right (obviously he had no idea how to ride a bike) it was too late: we watched him fly directly into the lake.

That was unfortunately not enough: Nicu did not know how to swim either, so he had to be rescued by two men who immediately jumped into the water as they saw him choke. The bicycle may still be at the bottom of the lake.