The Last Resort

LILYN E. CARLTON is a free-lance writer living in Oakland, California, with her psychiatrist husband and two children. This is her first appearance in Accent on Living.

It seems to me that the average American housewife is altogether too quick to run to the telephone to call the repairman for every little quirk that develops in a household appliance. This is certainly not good management, especially if you consider the cost of repairs nowadays. Why, it’s at least five dollars an hour for a common, ordinary, garden-variety repairman and much, much more for a specialist, like a plumber. Then there is the home-call fee — the charge for coming out, whether the man actually does anything or not.

Now, let’s get one thing straight before I go on. I’m not being subversive or anything. I’m not trying to sabotage the small American businessman or the American way of life. All I want to do is give my fellow housewives some hints on how to save a few dollars.

What I want to emphasize is that the repairman should be called in only as a last resort, after everything else has been tried. What else? Well,

I have a few suggestions, every one of which has been tested and found to work.

Number One: Wait. Do nothing. Once, as a result of a slight earthquake, our electric kitchen clock started to behave in a very peculiar manner. It made an ominous whirring noise and ran unusually slow. The second hand moved in its appointed course, but took about three minutes to make its sixty-second circuit. I was alone in the house at the time. I had vague thoughts of going to the basement and looking at the electric meter (though what I intended to do, I have no idea), but, other matters pressing at the moment, I did nothing. Well! An hour later that clock adjusted itself. The whirring noise stopped, the second hand was dashing around at its accustomed breakneck speed, and there it was — all fixed !

Number Two: Leave the house. This is actually one of the best devices I know, since when you use it you are killing two birds with one stone. That is, whatever has gone awry may right itself while you are gone, and at the same time you can get an errand taken care of. I find Number Two works especially well with funny sounds. For instance:

“What’s that noise?” I say.

“What noise?” says my husband, whose ears are not as keen as mine.

“Listen!” I say, holding up a finger.

We listen.

“I don’t hear anything,” says my husband. “It’s all in your mind.” (He is a psychiatrist, and that is his answer to everything.)

“No,” I say. “It’s a kind of eekump, eek-ump, eek-ump.''

He meets this with either another “It’s all in your mind” or, more likely, complete silence.

This is the time when I go out. And when I come back, the noise is practically always gone.

Number Two also works very well with funny odors.

Number Three: Turn the disturbing appliance upside down and shake or slap it. This procedure is obviously not feasible with refrigerators or built-in dishwashers (which we will come to later), but I have found it very successful with many smaller appliances.

I have, for example, an electric coffee grinder. I have had it for about five years, and it gives me very nice service, but every now and then, instead of emptying the ground coffee in a ladylike manner into a little cup I have provided especially for that purpose, it makes a terrible grinding noise and scatters the partially ground coffee in big, hard chunks in a kind of explosion all over the kitchen table, the floor, and the windowsills. Then it gives a loud burp and just sits there. I didn’t know how to handle this at first, but after some experimentation I found that picking it up, turning it upside down, shaking it hard, and administering a few slaps to its bottom with the palm of my hand does the trick.

Number Three is also quite effective with typewriters. Only two months ago I spent $22.50 to have my typewriter completely overhauled — cleaned, oiled, polished, reintegrated, disinfected, subrogated, and whatever else they can do to a typewriter to bring the cost up to $22.50. After a short time I began to have trouble with the space bar and the shift. I called the typewriter man.

“Look here,” I said. “Only a few weeks ago (I exaggerated a little) I paid you $22.50 — ” and I told him my troubles. And what do you think he said?

“You probably use the machine a lot,” he said, “better bring it in, and we’ll see if we can find the trouble. Of course, we’ll have to charge you for whatever we do.”

“Maybe it’s just some little thing,” I said to him. “Maybe I can fix it myself.”

He laughed. Laughed!

“Oh, no, lady. You couldn’t fix it yourself. A layman couldn’t fix it. Better bring it in.”

I just said thank you and hung up and went back to the typewriter. Then I picked up the machine, turned it over, and gave it a few hearty shakes and a couple of slaps. Since then it’s been working fine.

Number Three also works very well with electric juicers and tablemodel radios.

Number Four: Slap or kick the appliance. Number Four applies to those mechanisms which are too large for you to lift and turn upside down or appliances which are so firmly built into the wall that they cannot be dislodged no matter how hard you try. Under Number Four come such items as TV sets, hi-fi equipment, stoves, refrigerators, and built-in dishwashers.

The method is this: Start with the slap, and use the kick only if the slap doesn’t do the job.

I remember the time our dishwasher wouldn’t function. I had just loaded it with the accumulated dishes of three or four meals, set the top down, and turned the arrow to On. There was a queer little whirring noise, then a ffffffft!, and then it just stopped.

I called my husband. “Dear,” I said, “the dishwasher won’t work.”

“It’s all in your mind,” said Dear. But he got a screwdriver, took the cover off the dishwasher, and looked at the machinery underneath.

“Why won’t it work?” asked my husband, in a tone which clearly implied I was responsible for the breakdown.

“I haven’t the slightest idea.”

“I’ll go get my tool kit,” he said, and disappeared down the basement steps.

I decided to do a little experimenting.

First I gave the machine a few smacks, and it replied with a promising little beep. Next I tried a small kick. The machine responded with several encouraging noises, and thus egged on I backed up and let fly with a really good one. That did it. By the time my husband had found his tools, the dishwasher was purring away smoothly.

“Look,” I said. “It’s working fine now.”

“I told you it was all in your mind,” he said.

Number Five: Act as if you don’t care whether the appliance works or not. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I harbor a suspicion that many so-called inanimate objects are not quite as inanimate as they pretend to be. Anyway, I know that my attitude toward the disturbed appliance has a good deal of influence on it. I notice this particularly with electric lights. Sometimes I turn the light on, but it doesn’t go on. The thing to do is to act as if you don’t care if the light goes on in that room or not. Sit down, pick up a book, and pretend to read. Or go into another room, hang around for a few minutes, and then come back. In either case, the light will come on by itself.

Number Six: Have others witness the malfunctioning appliance. (This, I know, is in some vague way connected with Number Five, though I haven’t as yet pinpointed the precise relationship.) Call in another member of the household to show him that the appliance isn’t working. This is one of the very best methods I know for getting things going again, and it can be applied to almost any kind of recalcitrant machinery, though it seems to work best with the TV set.

As soon as you call someone in to show him, the sink faucet stops making that funny noise, the toaster pops up with just-right toast, and the TV picture looks better than it has looked for months.

“It looks OK to me,” says whoever you have called in. “What’s the matter with it?”

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Just stay here a minute. It was [whatever it was doing] just a minute ago.”

So you both stand and wait. And it functions perfectly. But as soon as the other person is out of the room it starts acting up again.

Now, after you have gone through all six of the above suggestions and none has worked, you’ll just have to call a repairman. But this, too, is a sort of device, and so perhaps I ought to label it.

Number Seven: Go ahead and call the repairman. Then take your stand at the front window and watch for him. He parks his truck in front of the house, and you watch as he gets out, goes around to the back, opens the rear doors of the truck, and begins to unload his equipment. He has a lot of equipment, hasn’t he? Finally, after a good deal of difficulty, he gets it all unloaded on the front walk and proceeds to drag it up the steps.

Then you wait until he has all this paraphernalia on the front porch and is breathing rather heavily as he leans against your doorbell. Now is the moment. Instead of answering the door, go back to the problem abbliance. Nine times out of ten it will start working beautifully right then and there.

Well, that’s the list. I hope I have been of some help in saving you money and keeping those messy repairmen out of your nice clean house. On the other hand, if you happen to have a repairman who looks like Tony Curtis, forget all the above suggestions — call him. It was only after seeing a few of the characters who come to my house to repair things that I thought up all these ideas anyway.