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BIZ CPT-PAYTV-BIZPLUS LA

Set-top box rentals generate about $19.5 billion a year for cable and satellite TV companies. But the boxes may face new federal regulations designed to break TV providers' hold on the devices.

“I can’t go fishing today,” said my ol’ buddy Lamar.

“Why are you whispering?” I asked. I could barely hear him over the telephone.

“Juanita is in the kitchen,” he said, “We’re in the middle of a, well, a . . .”

“An argument?” I offered.

I heard Lamar sigh. “Worse. She wants to talk about our relationship.”

Before I could express my condolences, I heard Lamar shout away from the phone. “It’s Tom. No, we’re not making any plans to go fishing. Yes, I’ll keep it short. Of course I love you.” A brief silence followed before Lamar spoke plainly into the phone. “She went into the powder room. I’ve got a few minutes to talk.”

I said, “How’re you holding up, man?”

“Not well, I’m afraid.” I could hear the fatigue in Lamar’s voice. “We’ve been at it for five hours.”

“That’s brutal, dude. What brought all this on?”

“How the heck do I know? Maybe it was Oprah or Dr. Phil, or Divorce Court, I don’t know. All I do know is it’s daylight and she’s not through chewing on this bone.”

“You’re being careful with what you say, if you say anything at all?”

“I’m trying, but it ain’t easy,” Lamar said. “I don’t know what’s got her all riled up. I thought we had a perfect understanding.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t try to run her life and I don’t try to run mine.”

“That usually works. Are you sure you haven’t done anything to get her this worked up?”

“Well, she said she wanted us to go out more often. I said I thought it was a great idea.”

“So?”

“I suggested she go out Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and I’d take Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.” Another sigh reached my ear. “What bothers me is I thought everything was going just fine.”

It was obvious he was in denial. “Lamar, surely there were signs that she was unhappy.”

Lamar thought for a minute. “I suppose so. Before we got together, she used to say, ‘You’re only interested in one thing!’ Now I’ve forgotten what it was.”

“Didn’t you two have a fight just last week?”

“Yeah, but it turned out OK.”

“How so?”

“She came crawling to me on her hands and knees.”

“What did she say?”

“She said, ‘Come out from under that bed, you coward.’”

Somewhere,“budda bing” echoed across the land.

“Maybe I’m just getting old,” Lamar said. “I used to be a go-getter, but now I have to make two trips.”

“Do you think you’re going to break up?”

Well, we’ve talked about it. If we do, we’re going to split the house.”

“That sounds fair.”

“I get the outside.”

“Maybe if you bought her a gift.”

“Tried that. Bought her a mink.”

“She didn’t like it?”

“She makes me clean its cage. Gotta go. She’s coming back. Think of me, my friend.”

Later, from the silent shore, with my bobber and two ducks floating motionless upon the sky-blue lake, I did.

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