High Maintenance

I have always been responsible for the upkeep and repair of the household appliances – except when that responsibility has been violently ripped from my incompetent hands by my loving wife.

For a few years, I had a guy I always called. I forget his name. His company name was A-1 Appliance Repair – or some other name that would get him at the front of the line in the yellow pages. My A-1 guy had an easy life. The first time, I called him because I’d been told by Cynthia, the woman who, for many years, took care of our kids, that the dishwasher was leaking. A-1 came the same day to have a look. It turns out Cynthia had been putting too much soap in the dishwasher. A-1’s policy was to charge eighty-six bucks just for showing up [95% of life after all]. That’s a good policy.

The next time I called him, it was for the oven. It was a fuse; a fuse that I am quite certain I checked before calling him because, Jesus, it is embarrassing to pay a guy eighty-six bucks to tell you that you need to replace a fuse. I kept a few fuses in the cupboard above the stove – in case one ever burned out. I installed it myself, thus avoiding any labour costs.

The next time I called him because the dryer was not working. It was a breaker. The fuse was less embarrassing. Just to get my eighty-six bucks worth, I made him flip the breaker.

Months later, the dryer stopped working again. This time, I was very careful. My A-1 guy was probably starting to think I was an idiot. I made sure the dryer was plugged in and that the breaker wasn’t flipped. I also ensured that I was operating the dryer in accordance with the instruction manual. [Parenthetically, I had once been told by a service guy that my warranty did not cover “customer education”, once he had determined that the only problem with my new dishwasher was that I didn’t know what I was doing. If there was a warranty that covered that sort of issue, I’d buy it.] When I was absolutely certain that I had an appliance actually in need of repair, I called A-1 Appliance Repair. He came to the door [that’s eighty-six bucks] went downstairs, took the top off the dryer and, about three and a half minutes into his visit, told me that the thing could not be fixed. I’d have to buy a new one.

Four service calls. No repairs.

I lost¬† A-1’s card and couldn’t find him in the yellow pages, so that was my last encounter with my no-repair man. God knows how much money I’ve saved by not having him drop by and not fix my appliances anymore.

I have had appliances repaired. Our Maytag fridge, for example, we had fixed many times both under warranty and after. It never quite worked the way you expect a fridge to work. One day it stopped working entirely. I unloaded everything, reloaded it all in the old fridge in the basement, and called a repair guy. It started working again. I called off the repair. Yes, it was a lot of trouble carrying all that cold stuff downstairs, then back up, but it was a great opportunity to cull things, I thought. It’s something you should do from time to time. This “looking on the bright side” attitude of mine is vexing to my loved ones, one in particular. “Fuck you Pollyanna,” she said quietly through her teeth, like a maniacal ventriloquist.

I was just happy to have a working fridge again and not terribly curious about what had happened. A while later, it happened again. And, like before, it started up again on its own, after I’d moved everything downstairs. A repair guy came to look at our on-again-off-again-but-currently-operating fridge and found nothing out-of-order.¬† He declined our offer of potato salad.

One afternoon, while I was out, the Loved One bought a new fridge. Not a Maytag. We had the Sears people take away the Maytag, even though it was relatively new and working perfectly well on the day it left us. Perhaps it was purchased at a second-hand store and is now ruining the marriage of some other lucky couple.

I’m sure everyone has heard the expression “to repair it would cost more than the thing is worth”. Am I wrong to believe that expression ought not to apply to everything in my house, including the cat?

We have a gas stove. A five-burner. Part of our Dream Kitchen. A wire came off one of the igniters and fell into the body of the unit. No problem, I’ll just take apart a few things and retrieve it. Nope. No matter how many screws I unscrewed, nothing was opening up. I’d have to call someone.

Troy, the authorized repair guy for this gas range, was a busy guy. When I was able to get him in, he oozed competence and professionalism. We wouldn’t be able to get at that little wire without breaking some corroded parts on the range, which we’d have to replace. He had a blue tooth device in his ear and he was immediately calling Ohio or some such place, ordering parts. He told me he’d be back when the parts came in and warned me this was going to be expensive. I didn’t mind. I had confidence in Troy. Eight weeks later, I hadn’t heard from him, so I called. He told me there had been some issue at the border and the parts had been sent back to Ohio, or wherever. No problem, though. He’d reordered them. Another eight weeks passed. I called. His explanation this time sounded less secure and cocky, so I pressed him more than I normally would – so frightened am I of confrontation. It emerged indirectly that Troy was engaged in some kind of pissing contest with the courier company that was to deliver the parts – he was refusing to pay some fifty dollar fee, so they refused to give him the parts. It never occurred to him to call me and let me know.

I fired Troy and hung up quickly, so as to avoid being drawn into a confrontation.

It only took me a few months to find a new guy authorized to work on our dream range. Dustin came in, looked it over, told me he’d order the parts as soon as he got back to the shop and he’d get back to me. Eight weeks later, I called him. He’d forgotten to order the parts. In fact, he’d forgotten the entire incident. I told him that I perfectly understood. I forget things all the time. Coincidentally, the top drawer of our snazzy two-drawer dishwasher had stopped working, so he could come and fix that and have another look at the range. He arrived, looked at the dishwasher and – good luck – what it needed was a little inexpensive part he happened to have on his truck. But – bad luck – he couldn’t get the old part out without breaking a bigger, more expensive part, which he did. No worry. He could just order that part, if he remembered.

As for the range, the breadth of this project vexed Dustin on this visit, in a way it had not the first time he came. He’d have to go back to the shop, look over some manuals, talk to the range people in Ohio or wherethefuckever, and get back to me with a price. A big price. It was likely going to cost as much to take the range apart and retrieve the wire as it would cost to buy and install a new range. I was willing to take that chance.

Summer came. We went on vacation and some of us were able to forget all about our appliance woes and just enjoy time with our family. When we got home, there was a voice message on the phone from Dustin. He’d decided to pursue a different line of work and would not be fixing my dishwasher or my gas range. Helpfully, he gave me Travis’s number.

Travis has worked out very well. I like him. I trust him. After a three or four visits, he has advised that neither is worth fixing.

Meanwhile, as we have done for many months now, we make do with half a dishwasher and four fifths of a gas range. It is not a great hardship, especially when one considers the harsh kitchen conditions faced by the early inhabitants of the prairies. They’d have loved half a dishwasher and four burners.

If you make do long enough, you sometimes forget that you’re just “making do”. So it is with the washing machine. It is twenty-three years old. It has never let me down. About a year ago, the main knob broke off. I was able make do using a pair of pliers. No problem. After a while, likely because of abuse by one or other of the boys, who do their own laundry but lack my patience with machines that almost work, the metal shaft that worked the timer got stripped a bit. It would still work with the pliers, but you had to kind of pull the shaft to the side a bit to catch the mechanism to get it going. It always took quite a few tries. I’m quite sure that this new, trickier, requirement for getting the thing to work drove my oldest boy nuts and he just yanked the shaft right out. He’s a strong lad, and often angry.

I briefly thought of calling in a repair person. But I was able to get the thing working by jamming a little Phillips screwdriver on the dial and pulling it over to the desired setting. It was hard at first, and the water turns on and off again as I work my way around the dial, but eventually I could do it without any trouble at all. No one else in the household could do it, however, so I found myself of necessity involved with every load of laundry loaded into that machine which has never let me down.

I consider that the washing machine works just fine. It washes clothes, which is the normal standard by which one fairly judges a washing machine. I continue to tell others that, in twenty-three years, this thing has never let me down. My Major Loved One has a different view. Not having developed my expertise with the screwdriver, and not being blessed with my sunny outlook, she believes that the washing machine really doesn’t work at all. She thinks it needs to be fixed – that the problem is with the washing machine, not with her. And, my unwillingness to accept this truth suggests that, in fact, the problem is with me.

Last time Travis was here I had him look at the washer. Oh yeah, he could still get a part for that old thing. It would cost three hundred dollars. He recommended just making do.