This Old House

In the early 70’s, we had no cash. Gary asked a builder, Oscar Spano, if we could paint the
inside of one of his new houses for our down payment. Spano said yes. Gary came and did most of
the painting. In 45 years, lots of things break down. One week was memorable.

On Tuesday the ice cream in our fridge was getting soft. I went into panic mode and hurriedly
called a well-advertised repair service.

“We can’t get to you for two days,” they said.

I made an appointment for Thursday, but I kept looking for someone who could come
sooner. Several phone calls later, I found a repairman who could come on Wednesday.

However, later on Tuesday, during a telephone call to my brother several states away, I
mentioned our problem. He said, “When did you last vacuum under your refrigerator? It’s not
complicated, and it might save you a service charge.” It was worth a try.

To clean under the fridge, I had to remove a series of hexagonal screws that held the back
cover on. After a brief search, I found the right screwdriver and removed the back, revealing a whole
warren of dust bunnies.

The needle-nosed vacuum attachment sucked the fuzz from under, over, and around every
visible surface. My wife and I retired Tuesday night, hoping that the freezer would be working
normally in the morning. Wednesday morning came. The ice cream was still soft.

A few hours later, a repairman pushed our fridge away from the wall, pleased that the back
was already off. He knelt to get a better look. I stood behind him, shining a flashlight over his head
into the dark cavity. The farther he bent, the lower his belt crept, until finally another dark cavity
came into view. His butt crack smiled up at me like a . . . well, like a butt crack. I said nothing.

His examination complete, he rose, hiked up his pants, and announced: “Either the heater,
or the fan, or the computer chip has malfunctioned. I don’t work on any of those. You’ll have to call
someone else.” He left without charging us for the call.

The following day, the repairman who was slated to arrive between 3:00 and 5:00 showed
up about 6:30, without apology, and demanded payment up front. After pocketing my check, he
glanced at the freezer and announced that the frost build-up told him which part had failed.

“We don’t have that part in stock,” he said. “I’ll have to order one. I can install it
Saturday.” He congratulated us on our nine-year-old refrigerator. “You’re lucky yours has lasted so
long. Most fridges need new parts after only five years.”

When I saw his estimate, I said, “Maybe it would be cheaper to buy a new one.”

“No,” he insisted. “Your design is a style that’s no longer being manufactured. It’s the best
ever made.” He added, “If you defrost the freezer yourself, that might save some labor costs when
we install the new part.”

With little time to spare, our son hurried from across town, and in short order, drove away
with our ice cream and frozen food in the trunk of his Mercury.

The repairman’s defrosting instructions were simple: “To defrost the fridge, unplug it. Catch
the water as the ice melts.” What he failed to mention was that water would drain from several
different spots, at random times, hour after hour, all through the night. Every time we spotted a
puddle, we caught it with a towel so as not to damage our floors. By morning, every towel in the
house was wet.

As I was gathering wet towels to put in the dryer, my wife came in from the laundry room
and announced, “Our dryer’s broken.”

“What? Do we have a service contract for it?”

“No,” she said. “We don’t.”

Hoping to save money, I called the repair service. “Can the repairman due back on

Saturday replace the heating element in the dryer at the same time?”

The clerk said that for an additional charge he could look at it—not fix it, just look at it.

My son who had saved the ice cream said that replacing the heating element in a dryer was
easy. So, using my online list of businesses, I began calling.

Again and again, I heard the words: “The parts would have to be ordered.” Surely, I thought,
in a city of a half million population, parts should be available locally. At last, a clerk asked, “Is
there any heat at all?”

“The unit gets warm, but not hot enough to dry clothes.”

He said, “The heating element in a dryer is like a light bulb. It’s either on or off. There’s no
halfway. If there is a little heat, then the problem is not the heating element. Have you cleaned the
lint trap lately?”

Was he kidding? We religiously cleaned our lint trap after every load. Still, I disconnected
the vent pipe and looked in. It didn’t look dirty on the end I was looking at. My wife removed the
lint trap in the dryer door and poked around. She said, “I feel something soft.” She kept on poking
and poking and poking. I went back into the kitchen and closed the door behind me.

A few minutes later, she dashed into the kitchen and slammed the door. “What happened?”
I said.

Out of breath, she said, “I turned the dial and pushed the start button. I heard a small rattling
sound like a rattlesnake, then suddenly lint and dust shot out of the dryer like a Texas tornado. The
laundry room walls and the ceiling are covered with dust, and lint is hanging from the ceiling.”

To fix the dryer meant replacing the tube that ran from the back of the dryer through the
garage wall into a flowerbed outside. To do that, it was necessary to enter the garage.

Opening the garage door proved to be almost impossible. One of the coiled springs that held
the door open lay broken on the garage floor. That necessitated a trip to Home Depot to purchase
a vent tube for the dryer and a spring for the garage door.

At Home Depot, the clerk directed me to aisle 9 for the vent, aisle 21 for the spring. I picked
up a tube for the dryer, then went in search of a spring.

I learned that there was no “one size fits all” for springs. Did I need the 28”, the 30”, or the
32”? I took a chance and bought a 30”. Arriving home and placing it beside the broken spring, I
saw another trip to Home Depot in my immediate future.

Installing the 28” spring required two people. One person had to hold the door open to a
height of about eight feet, while the other attached the spring. My son came to our aid for a third
time. I held the door up; he attached the new spring. It worked perfectly.

He also attached the new vent tube to the dryer in only a few minutes. We started and stopped
the dryer a few times till the noise of tumbling debris died out. It worked fine.

By Saturday afternoon, the repairman ar-rived, collected a check for the original estimate
without acknowledging our all-night vigil, and finally, after four days, our refrigerator was
restocked, the towels were dry, and we celebrated by opening and closing the garage door several
times just for fun.