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COLUMNIST: Dishwasher saga leaves little trust in appliance

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In the beginning, there was a dishwasher. To be exact, there was the dishwasher that came with the house. Two months into our stay in the new house, I found myself scrubbing the dishes before they went in the dishwasher. At some point, it wasn't clear who was doing more of the work: me or the dishwasher. My inlaws figured that a new dishwasher would make an excellent wedding present.

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My first load of dishes in my new KitchenAid dishwasher made me dance for joy. My joy didn't last the week. After the sixth daily wash cycle, the dishwasher simply stopped. No lights blinked at me from their small windows. The dishwasher console was as black and blank as my mood. I pressed every button on the contraption. No luck. I had a new dishwasher full of dishes that weren't clean, and smelly water that wouldn't drain. Time to call the repairman.

Repairman Tim showed up in a large van two weeks later and examined the useless hunk of metal comfortably sitting in the slot where the dishwasher was supposed to go. "It's a bad fuse," he said. "We gotta order the part. We'll set up an appointment in two weeks so that you're sure to have the part when I come back."

Four weeks, and counting, without a dishwasher.

The day before the repair was scheduled, we still didn't have the replacement part. According to UPS's computers, the part was waiting on the truck in Wadena. "Nope, no part here," said the UPS truck driver. "We have no idea where it is," said UPS. We had no choice but to call Sears back, delay our repair appointment, and beg them to reorder the part. "When's your next available appointment?" "Two weeks," said Sears.

Six weeks, no dishwasher.

Tim returned. We had received a small package with two tiny fuses inside. Tim inserted one fuse into its slot, and, presto-chango, within minutes the hunk of useless metal transformed back into a dishwasher. How I loved those little blue lights, harbingers of housewifely ease and domestic blessings. I thanked the dishwasher repairman.

I used the renewed dishwasher at least once a day. I cleaned everything, including Tupperware that I had long since given up for unusable. My kitchen was clean; the counters were empty. Five washes later, I found, horror of horrors, the powdered soap splayed down the inside door and a dishwasher full of dirty water that wouldn't drain. I pounded on the dishwasher's console. I pressed every button that existed and a few that I thought might. I kicked the unit. I wept; I yelled. I sat down in horror and called Sears again. "Two weeks," said Sears.

The tally stood at six weeks with hunk of useless metal, ten days with working dishwasher.

Tim arrived for the third time, and, small miracle, he still had the second fuse from our first replacement package. The dishwasher could be fixed with no further delay. This time, though, I was smart. I asked Tim to run every check he could to figure out what could possibly be wrong with the contraption that caused the demise of two separate fuses. He went through test after test. He spent long minutes on the phone with his colleagues and supervisor. "No idea what could be causing it," he said. "But if it happens again, call the repair center and tell them to order a new control plate and thermostat."

I was relieved but skeptical when the blue lights came winking back on. "Happy to see you!" it blinked. I blinked back. I did two washes that day, and the next day, I tried to do the same, just for the joy of it. By wash number four, I noticed, mid-wash, that all the lights had dimmed.

I called Sears. I had their number on speed-dial. "Yes, I know, two weeks." This time I would not wait four weeks, I would order my parts ahead of time. I tried to communicate what Tim had told me. "We need parts," I said. "I'll put it in your file," was the perfunctory answer.

On the appointed day, the Sears repair truck drove up the driveway. I stood by the door waiting for Tim to get out of the truck, but, the repairman who emerged from the van was not Tim. Oh dear, I thought. John hadn't gotten the message I'd left for Tim. He had no replacement parts for me. There was nothing he could do but take a look at the washer and order them. John ordered a new control plate, fuse, and thermostat. He opened his computer calendar to set up another appointment. "Two weeks?" he asked. I pulled out my dish drainer and got back to handwashing.

Running tally: three months with hunk of metal, ten days with dishwasher.

On the appointed day, I waited for John, grouchy and tired, having woken up early in case he arrived at the early end of the nine-hour appointment window. The sink and counters were overflowing with dishes that I hoped to wash in the dishwasher later that day. John showed up just as I was stacking my lunch dishes on the floor.

John replaced the parts and then called me over. "You know," he said, "I don't think the problem has been in the dishwasher." What? "Your water is draining too early, so the drain hose was probably installed wrong." Huh? "Reinstalling the dishwasher should do the trick." The problem could have been fixed with a quick call to my local plumber? I didn't have to wait three months for Sears repairmen?! I was livid, but at least there was hope that the dishwasher might one day actually work for a full week without breaking.

I said goodbye to John and called Mike's Plumbing and Heating. Jeff, the dishwasher specialist, came the next day. He spent a couple of hours working on the problem outlined by John the Sears repairman. He pronounced the dishwasher as healed as he could make it.

The dishwasher's lights blinked blue again, but I had lost my faith in the dishwasher's powers. I didn't have the heart to turn it on. I stacked my dishes in the sink and went away for the weekend. Upon my return, I had no choice. I swallowed my fears and pressed start. The machine hummed its start-up sequence. I left the room.

The dishwasher has been working for a full week now. This is a record, but I still don't trust it. Each load of dishes may be its last. Any morning I might wake up to a blank control-board and a dishwasher full of stinky water. Each night I say a silent prayer to myself and press start. Each morning, I wake up unsure of what I will find. Ironically, I won't ever be sure whether the dishwasher is working right... until it breaks. Funny, that's a lot like how I feel about the choices I make every day. Is it possible that my dishwasher has become a metaphor for my life?

In the beginning, there was a dishwasher...

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