BY DAVE WOOD
The throwaway culture
I long for the days when companies built accessories that would last. These days I'm worried about running around in rags because I have finally worn out my late Uncle Gene's wardrobe. Gene died in the 1970s and I inherited his taste for expensive shoes, jackets, fabulous wool shirts, one of which was so old there were snaps in the armpits where one could button in washable deodorant pads, in the days before dry cleaning.
So now I live in an age where they make neckties out of paper and sell them out of machines in airports, for those who need a change of neckware for an important business meeting. The throwaway culture they call it and I'm sick of it.
When my grandparents moved off the farm and into town in the late 1920s Grandpa bought his wife a newfangled refrigerator that made ice cubes and everything. Grandpa was a Wisconsin- First kind of guy and always chose Badgermade products, like his 1914 Nash touring-car, manufactured in what became American Motors. For grandma's refrigerator, he chose a Kelvinator, also manufactured by Nash, whose late model cars looked, ironically, like upside down bathtubs. The Kelvinator was of sleek art deco design and when grandma died in the 1970s the only thing wrong with it was that the ebony, spear-like handle wobbled a bit when pulled.
Out it went. The throwaway culture struck again. My Beautiful Wife and I have been married for 51 years, so we can remember college rentals which featured natural gas refrigerators to take advantage of the myriad gas wells in Bowling Green, Ohio, leftover from the oil boom of Northern Ohio at the turn of the last century. Since then, we can't count the number of freezers, refrigerators, washers and dryers we've worn out, usually in about ten years, or less. We've called in expert repair people like Greg Langer, who will often opine that it costs more to fix one than to buy a new one.
In the early 1940s, a well-to-do uncle built my aunt a fancy new house in Eau Claire's third ward. We drove up to see it. My mother stood by the new General Electric built-in dishwasher and stared, couldn't pull herself away from it until she saw it in operation. Sixty years later, when Aunt Myrt went to the nursing home it was still purring away.
After WWII her husband purchased a semiload of new Army Surplus GE refrigerators, the kind with a condenser perched on the top for $1 each. He stored them in his third Ward garage and sold them to retiring G.I.S for $25 each. He kept one and installed it in his new cottage on Lake Eau Claire in Augusta. I visited them at the cottage in the 1970s and the GE was humming away looking every bit like Buck Rogers Sci-Fi instrument of torture in a 1930s movie serial.
My spouse and I purchased our last dishwasher for around $900 about ten years ago, our fourth since our honeymoon. It's a Kenmore Elite, top of the line Sears product. Last week it stopped running. Period. No amount of jerryrigging seemed to help. Suddenly we noticed a light flickering on the command panel atop its drawer. It said “Call 1-800-469-4663.”
I was gobsmacked. Was Sears playing Big Brother with my dishwasher? Why the message? So I phoned our friendly Sears retailer. And I told her of the message we had just discovered and innocently wondered aloud if the message was installed to urge me to buy a replacement. Sort of like the phone call we get every six months from Hyundai about renewing the repair insurance on our 1980 Hyundai which we haven't owned for years, which we never bought insurance for or needed it.
I expected a friendly answer. Instead, she groaned, then laughed and suggested that I might be going nuts, that no such thing ever happened. She said that what was wrong with me, “going on a rampage” was that I was angry that my dishwasher was finally broken. This person was the soul of incivility. Finally, I asked her to give me her manager's or supervisor's name. “I am the supervisor,'' she laughed.
So I called the mysterious message at the number given on my control panel and got an answer. After 14 options, I chose “dishwasher” and a kindly-voiced real person named Anthony, by God, answered me and I told him my problem and by now wondered if I truly was losing my marbles. He said my complaint sounded reasonable to him, but he lived in Mexico and was only authorized to assign a repairman, but only if I was willing to post a $115 bond and promised to accept the repairman's bid. I told Anthony that I did this once before many years ago and the Sears repairman had to come all the way from Cameron, Wis., and never fixed the problem, so we ended up buying the one from Sears which sent me the “non-existent” message.
Talk about “Twilight Zone,” thought I as I grabbed my Visa card and headed for Menard's. (Grandpa Wood would be glad our Menard's is a Wisconsin company.)
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.