The Refrigerator

“NO, you must be kidding. Now the fridge has packed it in.”
Just what I needed this month, what with my smartphone being stolen, car registration and insurance papers arriving in the post, as well as recently buying a new dishwasher, new computer, 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.
I first noticed the beginnings of the latest calamity while taking a not-so-refreshing sip of tepid soda water from inside the refrigerator door on a hot afternoon:
“Hmmm”…I thought. “Not very cold.”
Like a modern proverbial ostrich, I went back to the lounge room and allegorically stuck my head into the television. A few minutes later a nagging and persistent subconscious suggestion that something was wrong distracted my attention away from the television program I was watching. Snapping out of a trance like micro-meditation, I realised that I had no idea what had just been happening on the TV show I was supposed to be watching. 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 unexpectedly warm 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 nothing is wrong” 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 happily, it was still working.
“So… 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 go away.
The next morning, I grabbed the milk from out of the fridge for a wake-up cup of tea.
The milk carton felt 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 refrigerator and that I was going to have to spend more of my hard-earned cash to call a repairman. I remember thinking aloud:
“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 socket 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 the 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 face up to the problem. 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, some milk and some dried out cheese, an open can of something or other 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. Unfortunately, it was 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 a peculiar looking yellow colour. A little over twenty-four hours without refrigeration and the vegetables were off; just confirming 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.
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 green wheelie bin, all the while experiencing the burden of unbearable guilt that comes from feeling personally responsible for the suffering of 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 cupboards and drawers, 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 years’ 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. 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 purchase one of our subprime 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 a fee each month, just like a phone contract, for the privilege of owning a reliable, 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 everyone away 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 thought I would 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. It sounded strange to me that the freezer compartment worked, but the remainder of the fridge did not. I rang the manufacturer’s customer care number for Australia and after pressing the right numbered buttons when prompted, I was eventually connected to what I assumed was the refrigerator service 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 seemed to run into one another and some of the endings or beginnings of words seemed to be missing.
“Ahwelcomsir, ah, mynam’sAlice, howcamIelpyoupleeze.”
“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. Do you know what might be the problem?”
“Ah, oh, yesnoyes. Letuspleezebiginingtoaskin’informatin detailsfirst.”
“Um, sorry? Err… do you know why the freezer would be working while the fridge section is not, in the RT45M model?”
“AH, OH! Dat mmmmmm berequire secondlevelsuppor. Pleeze. Letuspleezebiginingtoaskin’informatin detailsfirst.”
The penny had dropped and I realised that I was talking to a call centre, probably somewhere in south-eastern Asia.
“This isn’t Australia, is it. Is there anyone there who knows anything about refrigerators?”
“Ah, Letuspleezebiginingtoaskin’informatin detailsfirst.”CanI aveyoufullnamepleeze?”
After I relented and gave my askin’information detailsfirstpleeze, 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 condensation fills internal vents with water which then turns to ice, blocking the flow 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. In that way the ice in the vent lines melts and allows the cold air to once again circulate from the freezer to the refrigerator section. He said that if the fridge works for a whole week after that, then it’s fixed.
I unplugged the refrigerator from the power socket, left the doors of both refrigerator and freezer compartments open. I then 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 again.
Last night I ate a can of tuna on toast for dinner. Tomorrow is the second day.



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