A few years back, when I turned on my stove and it made a loud bang, I knew I was in for a day of making phone calls and looking online for a new one. The stove would not comply with my entreaties and gentle ministrations. Though I still had a toaster oven and a microwave as back-up, I was obsessed with getting this essential kitchen appliance fixed. Coping with things that become dysfunctional is a huge part of adult life at which I rate my own ability as fair to dismal (emotionally speaking). The ability to fix our kitchen appliances is not a reality for most of us. The ability to fix anything I own is completely out of the question…unless it involves a sewing machine or a dab of glue. But with a phone and a credit card, practical solutions eventually happen. After the initial fervent distress.
I began my life of owning stuff with the notion that everything I possessed had an unlimited lifespan and should serve me faithfully, without interruption, for as long as I needed it. This naïve phase passed as quickly as the span of a pricey purchased warranty. Back in my early years, my ownership was limited to a car, a stereo and a typewriter and other small electronic items. It was not until I bought a house with my husband, at the same time technology was gifting us with new-fangled phones and personal computers, that I earned my stripes as an owner of expensive fixes. These generally fall into one of four categories: Technological whoopsies, appliance mishaps, plumbing disasters and car breakdowns. The trick to handling these calamities is to take a deep breath, drink a glass of wine, fall asleep and wake up with the miserable knowledge that your day is definitely shot.
Technology is not my strong suit nor even flirts with being one of my dubious domains. Since technological workings are like black magic to me, I tend to become distressed when things don’t go the way I want them to. As an example, I have been doing this sequence of steps to clear my computer’s search history and suddenly that sequence no longer works. This is just one instance in which the many functions on both my phone and computer seem to arbitrarily change without my knowledge or consent. I can search for how to fix a problem, but the solution is often too complicated for me to carry out. This is when I must call for back up. I’ll usually allow a certain amount of frustration as I try to figure it out myself, but if I get to the point of gnashing my teeth (and/or sobbing), it’s time to bring in the reinforcements to save the day.
When my stove or refrigerator stops working, I know right away it’s going to cost me. Calling somebody begins with a computer search to find a competent repair person. At this point it’s not necessarily the dysfunction of my appliance that bugs me, but how long it will take to lure some knowledgeable person to my kitchen to relieve me of having to arrange for takeout for a week or stowing a few items in a neighbor’s refrigerator. When our old fridge died in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, we tried to have it repaired. Luckily, we still had the number of the crew who fixed our stove the year before and gave them a call. They came out within a few days, took one look at that thing and declared its demise. We threw out a lot of food and stuffed a small portion into the beer fridge in the basement. Thankfully nothing was fermenting in there at the time. We feared getting a new refrigerator would take months, so we ordered both a new fridge and a freezer for our basement from two different places. We figured one of the two might be delivered within a week. After a week of juggling our foodstuff from basement to kitchen and buying just enough veggies for one meal, both our appliances satisfactorily arrived and order was restored.
A homeowner isn’t quite worldly enough until they have had to deal with a water-related disaster. Not that I would wish this on anyone, but it Is the true test of one’s mettle, should one wish that to be tested. Ours involved our air-conditioning unit, a clogged drain pan, and an unexpected waterfall feature in the bedroom hallway. Most people don’t scan the ceiling of their hallway as they pass through…until it begins to feel like a Brazilian rainforest in there. Horror does not begin to describe the consequent reaction as it mixes with confusion and disbelief. The real challenge with this disaster was that we had to turn off the a/c unit in the middle of the summer to stop an impending deluge and poke a big hole in the ceiling so that all the water would drain into a bucket down below. We then called the a/c company stating firmly that this was an emergency. I could feel the mold just beginning to thrive in the heat, feasting on the dampness, and plotting our pulmonary afflictions.
By this time, we were experienced with water in the home, though previous villainous fluids came from outside to dampen our floors and spirits. This flooding provided an extra layer of angst as it involved more than one rescuer and a vertical collection of ruined surfaces. We had to tear down a good portion of the ceiling and allow it to dry after the a/c drain was fixed. It was almost like having a skylight in the hallway except for the fact that we had a view of the air conditioner unit and hot water heater instead of sunshine. Of course, we had to find someone to repair the ceiling. Yes, we were becoming quite the worldly pair.
No breakdown gets to me more than that which involves my car. After recently being a passenger while my guy and I were driving seven days there and back to Maine, my biggest imagined fear surrounded the breakdown of our motor vehicle in some unfamiliar, distant land amongst hostile motorists. Cars never cease working three blocks from your house, but wait until you are on a busy interstate in the rain, some 427 miles from home, to conk out. Preferably when you are in the left lane next to an inadequate road shoulder. Your unknown name would be cursed by left-lane speedsters as they reluctantly apply the brakes in the passing lane. Gut-wrenching stuff to even consider, yet it was all I could think about on a boring car ride so far from home.
Nothing even remotely like this has happened to me…yet. When I am driving, I stay in the right lane while clutching my AAA card as I pray to the gods of transportation to make other people slow down in case my transmission decides to take a holiday. I take heart in the fact that the few breakdowns I’ve experienced while cruising the local streets of the places I’ve lived have resulted in receiving assistance from the kindest people out there. The flat tire as I drove home from my college night class was changed by a man who told me he was thinking of his daughter and would want someone to stop and help her. The angst of a conked-out engine on a busy city street was eased by the day laborers hanging on the corner waiting for work, who pushed my car off the road into a parking lot. The only person to stop when my car died on a heavy commuter roadway was a woman who asked me who she could call. I did not need her help, but I thanked her profusely. Meeting those helpful humans out there on the street calmed my nerves a bit, but I have always been the champion of imagining the worst until it doesn’t happen.
On that trip to Maine, as we made our way home, about 100 miles north of Asheville, we stopped for gas. When we returned to the car, the side mirrors (which retract whenever the car is locked) would not go back out. Can you drive on a busy freeway without side mirrors? I did not think so, so my heart rate began to accelerate and I began to sweat. I tried to reason with myself. We were in Somewhere, Virginia, not Nowhere, Wyoming. We were parked next to a gas pump at a mini-mart. Knowing these things did not make me feel better, so I tried taking some slow, deep breaths as my husband locked the car and unlocked it again. It worked! The mirrors slipped back into the proper position. We would have been quickly back on the highway if the brakes hadn’t begun making a horrendous noise each time we slowed down driving back toward the interstate. This dilemma felt decidedly worse than stuck mirrors, so we ignored it. What followed was not my best example of grace under pressure.
My husband audibly reasoned brake pads wear down to a point where a noise tells the driver to be thinking about replacing them. For 100 miles I could think of nothing other than wondering if cars were allowed to use those run-away truck ramps when careening down a steep hill with no chance of normal stopping. When we pulled into our driveway, I sighed out all the tension of the last four days of travel as my inner, pragmatic fixer-of-broken-things was deciding who to call.
May your broken things be few,