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Column: The crusades revisited

"I read about you on the Internet," I said to Ms. Widerthanthou, the new Energy Star refrigerator that hulked in the corner of my kitchen. And I had. I wasn't prepared yet to let her know all I had learned.

Appliances are a lot smarter than you think. If anyone should know that, it's me. After spending nearly 30 years trying to figure them out and fix them, there is really no other explanation: Appliances hate their masters, and will miss no chance to go on the fritz and inconvenience them.

That is what Ms. DoubleWide was doing to us: inconveniencing us. I refer to her as Ms. DoubleWide because she has the new "French" doors on top, a pullout freezer on the bottom, with ice and water in one of the upper doors.

Just for your information, the "French" doors are one more reason to doubt that nation's integrity. No matter which door one opens, the left, or the right - whatever one wants is in the other one. I think of these doors the way England thinks of France, which is summed up by a pre-World War II statement by then Prime Minister Chamberlain, who, when asked for help by France to repel the German invaders, replied: "We will fight and fight and fight to the last Frenchman."

Oh, and the term "doublewide?" This model is huge, and sits in the kitchen like a doublewide trailer sits on a narrow lot. For the first year I had it, I resented the space it took up and how it protruded out into the kitchen, like a white ship coming out of the wall. Apparently she, like others of her ilk, read my mind, and decided finally, after a couple of years of my poor attitude, to get even.

First she took away the ice and water in the door. Oh, not all at once. My True Love came down stairs a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that the water had quit coming out of the fridge. A few minutes later, I tried, and it was fine. Then it wasn't. Then it was.

They play dirty, appliances do. Just when you're dirty, and need laundry; or hungry, and need the microwave; or bored, and need the TV; or cold, and need the furnace--that's when they get you. I was thirsty, and it went dry.

"So," I asked her, "what's up with the no water?" I kept my mind blank, so she wouldn't know how little I knew about repairing this computerized marvel of twenty-first-century engineering.

"Oh, nothing," she said, with an innocent shrug of her big, wide, white shoulders.

"I'm going to have to go in and take a look, then," I warned her. Often, a good warning is sufficient, and I've learned this because as often as not, I've gotten to a house to work on some appliance, to find it has fixed itself, and is working fine. They're great bluffers, these things.

Now, I was bluffing. I wasn't even sure how to program her front-door computer, and I knew, from listening to her these past years, that she had several variable-speed motors within her. The efficiency of an appliance or furnace or whatever when it's not running is zero. Therefore, to increase energy efficiency, designers want energy-consuming appliances to run only at speeds sufficient to match the need. They can be very efficient when this is accomplished - and scarily complex.

I went to the Internet, Googled her model number, and sat back in horror as I viewed a discussion forum filled with scathing comments from hundreds of other hapless owners of this giant lemon. Could any DoubleWide be this vindictive?

I called my old appliance parts distributor, got the part number for the main "mother" circuit board, and was told, as I was told on the discussion forum, that it wasn't available for over a month. That's a clue.

"First the ice and water quit," said one upset customer. "Then the food compartment went warm." Oh no. I immediately went over, opened up DW, and sure enough, the milk was spoiled.

I went back to the computer: "Then, we woke up in the middle of the night. The door out of which ice cubes come began clicking open and clacking shut, and the digital display lights began to flash, and water began squirting out onto the floor!"

I walked over and stood in front of Ms. DW, and said: "Are you......!?!?"

She shot me with an ice cube, and while I was distracted by her blinking digitals, peed water on my leg. Then, as if she wanted to speak out loud, began clicking and clacking her ice cube door, punctuating the clicks with flung ice cubes.

I once knew Morse code, and this sounded familiar. I wrote down what I could decipher.

"Touch my body and suffer a fate worse than death!" So it said.

I called the company, told them my fridge was possessed by demons, and I was afraid to sleep in the house.

They're sending out a new motherboard.

Next month.

Who'd have thought saving energy would be this expensive.