Death of a Refrigerator

Holy smoke, you must be kidding. Now the fridge has packed it in.

Just what I needed this month, what with my smartphone being stolen, the huge bill for paving at the house, car registration and insurance papers arriving in the post last week and just after sanding and polishing the timber floors of the old house, as well as recently buying a new dishwasher, new computer and printer, paying for repairs to the ride-on mower and purchasing “George”, the washing machine. I have been spending money like a drunken sailor, lately. At this rate I may need to walk the streets. Come to think of it, I probably would not be able to afford the public liability insurance.

I first noticed the beginnings of the latest calamity while taking a not-so-refreshing sip of tepid soda water from the refrigerator door:

Hmmm…I thought. Not very cold.

Like a modern-day proverbial ostrich, I went back to the lounge room and stuck my head into the television. A few minutes later, the nagging, persistent, subconscious suggestion that something was wrong interrupted my attention to the program I was watching. Snapping out of a trancelike micro-meditation, I realised that I had no idea what had just happened on the TV show I was watching, for the last minute or two. My thoughts were dominated by a mental image of the perplexed look of disappointment that must have been on my face in response to the unexpected temperature of the soda water. I started my journey back to the fridge with some trepidation, and probably, another stupid look plastered onto my face that said something like: “I hope not” or “please, no”. By the time I got to the fridge my demeanour had changed somewhat and my cautionary but more optimistic face was saying something dismissive such as, “Nah, probably just need to turn up the cooling dial, or something”. I had another sip of soda water.

“Oh, oh. Something was definitely wrong here”.

But I checked the freezer compartment and it was still working!

“Or… maybe not?”

Clearly, given recent exorbitant expenditures incurred, I did not want to believe I now had a problem with the fridge that would potentially require the cost of repair and/or replacement. The mind is a powerful tool; subconscious denial and self-delusion overwhelmed reason, I turned up the cooling dial and went back to the lounge room and television, hoping that the problem would just all go away, like magic.

The next morning, I grabbed the milk from out of the fridge for a wake-up cup of tea.

The milk was warm.

I now remembered that I had not heard the usually very regular but intermittent humming noise of the fridge motor, for some time. I had an odd perception that things had been different lately, and now realised that it must have been because the kitchen had been eerily quiet these past twenty-four hours or so.  I could not defer the cruel realisation any longer that something was definitely amiss with the fridge and that I was going to have to spend more of my hard-earned cash to call a repairman- these guys charge an arm and a leg just to come to your house on a callout. This “sudden” realisation, that should have occurred the day before, threatened to spoil my entire day. So of course, I ignored it. I turned the fridge off at the power point and moved it away from the wall to expose the back of the errant appliance. I jiggled the wires and pipes, and anything else I could get my hands on. I turned the refrigerator back on. The motor started up. Success!

“Ah, that should do it”, I thought to myself. My mind was being a tool again.

I went to town on some errands and got back just after lunchtime. I marched straight to the fridge to check if it was working properly, as it had been playing on my mind all morning. Self-denial had prompted me to buy more groceries. I remember thinking that the quiet of the kitchen due to lack of refrigerator hum did not auger well. Sure enough, everything in the fridge was at room temperature, or warmer.

Okay, that did it. Time to bite the bullet. Hopefully, the fault might be something minor.

Before I did anything else, I checked the fridge for anything I would have to throw out and for anything that was salvageable. To be honest, this refrigerator was a typical bachelor’s fridge that usually did not have a great deal in it. Ordinarily, it would contain a small number of fresh food items like a few sad-looking vegetables, a half-used milk carton, some old dried out cheese, an open can of something, along with some beer, wine and some more beer. As fate would have it however, the fridge was particularly well stocked at this time due to a recent fresh food sale at the local supermarket- always frugal! I thought I might as well steam up some carrots, butternut pumpkin, corn-on-the-cob and broccoli so that it would last longer, and that I could also snack on for lunch. Too late!

The trouble was, my vacillations and indecision over the last day and a half had rendered almost all of the perishables, perished. The carrots and pumpkin had spots of mould on them, the corn was all dried out and the vibrant green broccoli of the other day was now an insipid yellow colour. A little over twenty-four hours without refrigeration and the vegetables were off; just confirms that the term “supermarket fresh food” is a genuine oxymoron. The milk was off too, so I could not even have a cup of tea.

Great!  What a waste! I gathered what seemed to me to be a small fortune’s worth of food into a couple of plastic shopping bags and binned the lot. This was particularly traumatic for the son of Maltese parents who grew up during the famous WWII siege and associated severe famine on that militarily unfortunate Mediterranean island. My parents always instilled into my siblings and me the deplorable and inexcusable disgrace that came from wasting food. This concept was so powerfully and systematically seared into my brain as a young child by my obsessive but well-meaning parents, that I believe it has profoundly and psychologically scarred me for life. I felt my heart racing, and almost had a panic attack, as I ashamedly lowered the bags of wasted food into the wheelie bin, all the while experiencing the burden of unbearable guilt that comes from feeling personally responsible for the suffering of all the starving children in the Third World. My loving parents have a lot to answer for.

Anyway, back to the refrigerator.

After some searching throughout the kitchen and study, I found the instruction booklet that came with the appliance. I knew I would find the booklet eventually, as I always keep them, but it took a while as I have just moved house and could not remember the safe place where I had stored them. Of course, the warranty had expired. You buy major appliances these days with only two or three year’s warranty. So, in my case, I spent about $800 on a refrigerator that the manufacturer had the confidence to guarantee would work for all of two years. It really is a race to the bottom these days. Cheaper and cheaper components; lower and lower costs; lower and lower longevity, higher and higher turnover. Two years guarantee! Two miserly years. I don’t know why they bother. Why not make the fridges so cheap that only some of them work? It could be like a lottery for the unwary consumer. Companies and their shareholders would make even more profits and dividends:

“Oh, bad luck, sir. You happened to have purchased one of our dummy fridges. Would you like to try your luck again, for one that is fully operational this time?”

I can foresee the day when we will have to pay so much every month, just like a phone contract, for the privilege of having a working refrigerator. One day all appliances will probably be on a twelve month rental contract. Seriously, the economic boffins actually did something similar to us when they moved us from fixed telephone lines and untimed calls.

I perused the owner’s instructions booklet that came with the fridge and found the phone numbers for “customer care”. There were different phone numbers listed for different countries around the world. I decided to ring the Australian service centre and ask a few questions about my fridge and describe the problem, in case there was something I could try before going to the expense of a repairman’s visit. I rang the manufacturer’s service number for Australia and after pressing the right numbered buttons when prompted, I was eventually connected to what I assumed was the refrigerator section. I was greeted by a very affable sounding young female voice with a heavy Asian accent. I was guessing that she was affable from the tone of her voice, although I was not completely sure as I found it difficult to understand a single word she was saying. All the words tended to run into one another and some of the endings or beginnings of words seemed to be missing.

“Ahwelcomsir, ah mynam’sAlice. Owcam I elpyoupleeze.”

“Sorry? Oh… yes, um, I have a fridge, model RT45M that is not working properly. The freezer is working but the fridge part is not. Are they on separate motors?”

“Ah,oh,yesnoyes. Letuspleezebigining toaskin’informatindetailsfirst.”

“Um, sorry? Err… do you know if the freezer and fridge have the same motor in the RT45M model?”

“AH,OH! Dat mmmmmm berequire secondlevelsuppor. Pleeze. Letuspleezebigining toaskin’informatindetailsfirst.”

“This isn’t Australia, is it. Is there anyone there who knows anything about fridges?”
The penny had dropped and I realised that I was talking to a call centre, somewhere in south-eastern Asia.

“Ah, Letuspleezebigining toaskin’informatindetailsfirst.”CanIhave youfullnamepleeze?”

After I relented and gave my askin’informationdetailsfirstpleeze, I received the phone number of a repairman that was designated for my area. I rang the number and explained my situation.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

“I’m in South Bowenfels, near Lithgow.”

“Sorry, that’s way out of my area. I’m hours away down the mountains.”

“But customer care gave me your number!”

“Yeah. They do that. You were probably speaking to someone in South Korea; they have no idea! They don’t have anyone in your area so they just give you the number of the nearest service provider. But I don’t travel that far.”

The service provider was good enough to help over the phone, however. Apparently, the model of refrigerator I have has a common design fault where water condensation fills internal vents with water which then freezes, blocking the circulation of cold air from the freezer. He advised me to unplug the fridge and leave it off with the doors open for two days, then turn it back on. He advised me that if it works for a whole week after that, then it’s fixed.

I unplugged the fridge from the power socket, left the doors of both refrigerator compartments open, took some frozen food to a friend’s freezer and hoped for the best. With any luck, the ice will melt, the water evaporates through the vents and the fridge works. Last night I ate a can of tuna on toast for dinner. Tomorrow is the second day.


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