The attempt to get repairs for any household utility that is at all old — although “old” is a relative term, whether it is applied to an eggbeater or to a trim-waisted golfer of sixty-two — is an embarrassing experience. Certain old things are permissible, in spite of their years, such as prayer rugs or flintlock muskets; an exquisite tenderness is shown the citizen who would like to reconstitute his cast-iron William Tell coin bank, with Tell firing nickels and dimes into the gizzard of Tell Junior. A bank of this sort is not the most immediately useful object in the house, but it is obviously even less so when it isn’t working. The unimmediate old things, in other words, are all right to own and maintain. But it is when the refrigerator suddenly conks out on the day before a dinner party that humiliation sets in. There follows the quest for the service man, and questions about the age of the contraption become inevitable.
For service on my refrigerator, a Westinghouse, it is necessary to make a toll call to Framingham, a suburb of Boston some thirty-five miles distant. Why service should be dispensed from the suburb, I do not know, but it does take on a hard-toget flavor that makes the city dweller appreciate it all the more. So I was relieved and hopeful until the woman who took my call asked me how old the refrigerator was.
“I think it is about twenty-two vears,” I said.
“ Twenty-two years?”
There was a genuine incredulity in the woman’s voice. Was it a hoax, or was I some harmless crank? Twenty-two — but no, she seemed to feel; it was like going back to the days of harvesting natural ice from ponds and vending it throughout the year from horse-drawn wagons. A wild-goose chase, forsooth, for any service man was what she made it sound like.
“What size is it?” This, her next question, caught me all unprepared. What are refrigerator sizes? Small, medium, large? My status as one suffering a twenty-two-year-old property was low enough, and I dreaded making a wrong answer again. I said it was quite adequate, even roomy, finally accepting her suggestion that it might be nine cubic feet. I explained about the dinner party, and she said she would see what she could do, although with anything that old —
The trouble with the refrigerator, the service man found the next day, was a short in the button device controlling its interior light. The easy solution was simply to take out the bulb and thereby break the circuit, but of course this meant no more light when the door was opened. A new button? For a refrigerator that old? Please, let us be sensible.
It still seemed to me a thin reason for scrapping the whole machine, so I thought, while he was there, I might as well ask the service man to renew the rubber insulating strip around the inside of the door. Here again the age factor was paramount. I got the impression that the shape of refrigerator doors has changed from year to year as radically as automobile taillight designs. It would be a remarkable example of survival if a rubber anywhere near right for the door could be found; and if he had one, the service man estimated, the job would run to some $25. It was another inducement for me to get rid of the poor old relic, but I told him to go ahead with the rubber if he could find one. He was absent for some time, presumably rummaging in his truck outside, but he came back with a rubber that fitted exactly. I asked him to explain the $25 estimate.
“Well, it costs $4.75 to have me come here,” the service man began. “The rubber is $10, and then there is a charge of $2.75” — it may have been more, and at any rate, the italics are mine — “for each fifteen minutes that I am in the house.”
So, we have the new rubber and no more interior light, and we are holding on grimly, waiting for the end. I do not know what is guaranteed about refrigerators, and I doubt that it goes beyond twenty-two years in any case, but I do find myself perplexed about the “lifetime guarantee” on my Schick electric razor.
The razor is even more elderly than the refrigerator. I was assured when I bought it that it was “guaranteed for life.” It buzzed along happily for a decade or more, and if it wore out several sets of its “selfsharpening” cutters, I am mechanic enough to know that whatever continues to sharpen itself indefinitely will sooner or later be sharpened to nothingness. In recent years the razor subsides, annually, into a slow drone. Its brushes, I am told, are jaded. The model has been discontinued. The razor is old, too old, and I ought not to expect repairs on so old a mechanism. I am now paying each year for maintenance about one fourth of the razor’s original cost. Messrs. Schick are still opulently in business, but I am afraid we have never come to a real understanding as to what is a “lifetime.” It begins to dawn on me that I have overstayed the span allotted to me in Schick’s mortality tables. I am sorry to be causing trouble.