I was a renter for a good many years. The nice thing about being a renter, at least in America, is that you have all of your appliances provided by your landlord. If one of them breaks, the landlord deals with it. You're not going to get anything luxurious, at least not in any of the places in which I was ever a tenant, but it's going to work, more or less.
Most of the refrigerators I knew as a renter looked like they were manufactured sometime in the 1950's. They were always white, with rounded corners and a lot of chrome trim. What they lacked in charm, they made up for in reliability. What is a refrigerator, after all? It's just a box. An insulated box, with a motor that pumps the coolant around the cooling circuit and a thermostat that turns the motor on and off. Oh, and a light, with a switch that turns it on when you open the door.
I never had a refrigerator of my own until I lived in Germany. There, even as a renter it's up to you to provide your own kitchen and laundry appliances. Still, what I ended up with was… a box. Nothing exciting about that.
Then I moved back to America and after renting a house for a couple of years, bought a house of my own. The appliances that were left by the previous owner were in a pretty sorry state, so off we went to shop for a new refrigerator. America, land of plenty! So much to choose from! Freezer on top or below? Side-by-side? French doors? Mais oui, monsieur! Which finish—white, black, beige, stainless steel? Ice and cold water right in the door? We settled on a black Maytag side-by-side model.
For a year and a half or so, we got along well, the fridge and I. Then summer came, and we started noticing little puddles on the floor. I figured out that in our humid summer weather, water was condensing on the cold inside walls of the refrigerator and then running down the sides and out the bottom. I assumed the door seal must not be working right, and called someone out to the house to repair it.
Well, it turned out that the door was in fact not properly sealing, but not because the seal had a problem. There was some plastic component of the door hinge that was worn down and causing the door to sag slightly and not close properly. A known design flaw with this model, the appliance repairman told me. Great, and of course the thing was out of warranty by then. The repairman replaced the part and admonished me not to put any heavy items in the door, as this could cause the part to fail again prematurely (which I guess meant within 18 months rather than the expected two years).
But wait, I said, behold: the door has shelves that are actually made to hold multiple gallon jugs of milk, or juice, or water or whatever; surely it can handle some weight. The repairman, affecting the kind of soothing voice and saccharine facial expression that one uses when explaining complicated principles to small children or feeble-minded adults, repeated his admonition to heed his words and spare myself from the curse of Maytag.
I did my best to follow that advice. My Favorite Wife and I were careful to put only the lightest of items in the door shelves. And lo, it came to pass that another year and a half or so later, the door was again not fully sealing. But worse: as summer came, bringing with it the usual humidity, instead of dribbling out onto the floor, the condensation began to freeze in one cold spot on the inside of the refrigerator. Over the summer, the chunk of ice grew to a diameter of about twelve inches. As summer turned to fall, and fall to winter, the air became drier and the ice receded, until by about late December it was all gone. The following summer, and the summer after that, and in every summer since, we observed the natural cycle of growth and recession of our own private glacier. Until this summer, that is, when instead of the glacier we were back to the water just condensing on the inside walls and running out the bottom.
The thing has had other problems, too. The little plastic connectors that hold the produce compartments in place have slowly broken off, one by one, to be replaced with whatever contraption I could rig up as a replacement. But why? It's not like those things are subject to the kind of weight, or sudden stress, that would cause them to snap in half for no obvious reason. The cold water dispenser became entirely useless; the flow of cold water, once a mighty stream, gradually slowed to a tiny trickle, as if the refrigerator was suffering from prostate problems. The ice maker developed a problem in which the little paddles that kick the finished cubes (or wedges, more like) out of the ice form into the holding receptacle began to stick, causing the freezer to emit an alarming clicking noise accompanied by the hum of a straining motor until I finally stuck my finger in to unstick the thing. More recently it developed a leak or condensation problem or something else that caused the ice maker to commit suicide by gradually encasing itself in a thick layer of ice that ultimately rendered the whole thing useless.
It's worth mentioning (or maybe not, but I'll do it anyway), that I bought a Maytag dishwasher at the same time as the refrigerator. It turned out to be noisy enough just during the wash cycle, but it also had this sort of built-in garbage disposal unit that ran as the water was pumped out, and that thing was so loud that it was like living in a sawmill every time we ran a load. Despite its avowed mission to ensure that anything stuck to your dishes would not clog the drain, the thing itself would clog, requiring me to perpetually clear the gunk out of it with my fingers. After the second or third visit from the repairman in five or so years, I replaced it with a Bosch unit that reliably runs whisper-quiet. So much for buying American. Built to last… about three years, if you're lucky. Don't even get me started on my Ford Windstar.
|Time to meet your maker.|
MFW and I have toyed with the idea of replacing the accursed icebox for some time now. It's been a long time coming, because neither of us can get really jazzed about looking at appliances, nor are we especially enthusiastic about shelling out big bucks for something that performs such a simple function. We recently made one abortive attempt to go out and shop for a new one. I did some research online beforehand, but practically every model that had good reviews overall still had a pretty significant number of one-star reviews by people attesting to how that particular one had more or less wrecked their lives. What kind of decision do I make with this information? Then we went to Sears, where we stared at fridge after fridge before deciding that we just couldn't deal with it.
In the week or so after that, I stopped at a couple of specialty appliance stores near where I live. I spent about five minutes in each, just long enough to ascertain that they carried only the high-end models. There is no way I am going to pay $3,000 or more for a stupid refrigerator, no matter how beautiful it may be.
The weekend before last was tax-free weekend in Massachusetts, meaning that no sales tax is charged on purchases under, if I recall correctly, $2500. I suggested to MFW that we go look at refrigerators again, reasoning that the writing was on the wall that we should think of replacing ours while we can at least shop around, rather than waiting until the thing just up and dies and we have to just go out and buy something, anything, so why not do it when we could save 50 or 60 bucks off of what we might otherwise spend. We went to a couple of home improvement stores, the orange one and the blue one; both had a fairly large selection of only the most expensive models, so before we knew it, we were back at Sears.
To our mutual surprise, we actually found a model that we could agree on. It was on sale too, but then it seems like the appliances are always "on sale" at Sears, so I didn't pay much attention to that. However, they were also having a special "friends and family" event in which you could take 15% off the price of any appliance, or 20% if you paid with a Sears credit card. So in the end, we ended up actually spending a fair amount less than we had expected to spend.
Yesterday was to be the big day when the new box would be arriving. We spent the evening before getting ready. You have no idea how much ridiculous stuff you've accumulated until you have to take it all out of the fridge. For one thing, there are the forgotten leftovers that have gotten shoved into a far corner, out of sight and no doubt spawning the next generation of mutant killer bacteria that will one day threaten the entire planet. Then there are the exotic ingredients bought for one recipe that called for it, but which will never be used again. What did we even buy this huge jar of ground caraway seed paste for? Nobody remembers.
The tendency of my refrigerator to be home to container after container of items that expired sometime during the Clinton administration is probably a legacy of my days as an (almost literally) starving student. I was in college at a time when you could actually still go to a state school and work your way through, although it meant barely scraping by, with periods in which I found myself with just enough cash on hand to buy enough potatoes and onions to eat for a week or more, until the next paycheck came in. Decades later, I still struggle to suppress a semi-hysterical reaction when someone tries to throw food away. The neighbors tell amusing tales of how I terrorized their picky-eater children into finishing everything they had loaded onto their plates when they came to our house to eat, something that their kids had never before done at home.
Anyway… We moved all the frozen food we wanted to keep into our big freezer, discarding things like the cartons of ice cream containing half an inch of something no longer really recognizable as ice cream, so that was easy enough. We removed all the things like beer or soda or other items that were in the refrigerator more for the pleasure of having them cold than because they really needed to be in there. What remained would be easy to throw into an ice chest long enough for the delivery guys to extract the old box and deposit the new one.
Then it was time to start on the outside. We removed about ten years worth of accumulated stuff stuck to the front of the thing with magnets. Photos, newspaper clippings recounting track and field exploits of The Heiress, the skeleton of a mouse extracted by The Young Master from an owl pellet in first or second grade and glued to a piece of construction paper, an amazing number of long-expired coupons and various other bits of flotsam.
Then at last we got the call from the delivery guys saying they would arrive shortly. Milk and lunch meat and other stuff like that went into the ice chest. I pulled the wretched box out from the little alcove that has hosted it for all these years, disconnected the water hose and vacuumed up all the dust bunnies and other accumulated gunk. Then we awaited the Blessed Event.
Two guys showed up shortly afterward. One of them unpacked the new refrigerator at the truck, while the other one measured door clearances and sized up other potential obstructions. He was actually kind of amazed that we had a moderately easy way to get the old one out and the new one in. MFW asked him if it ever happens that they can't fit somebody's new refrigerator through the door, and he said it happens on a pretty regular basis. Thankfully, with us they were in and out the door in relatively short order.
|Finally life is worth living again.|
Oh, what a difference! Twenty-four hours later, everything in the new box seems colder and fresher than in the old one. There is ice to be had. No puddles, no unsettling noises. The stuff stuck to the front of it is only the most important of useless items, although for some reason MFW has failed to put up the aforementioned mouse skeleton; I must have a word with her about that. And as for the old Maytag, it's now just a bad memory; since it's in bad taste to speak ill of the departed, I'll just say it's comforting to think that it's with Jesus now.