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Adventures in Home Improvement


The Freezer Fiasco

August 17, 2003
Sunday morning started out like most with a roll out of bed around 8:30. My typical routine is to get dressed and head to the kitchen to prepare coffee. After turning on the coffee maker that sits on my office desk, I head next to the living room, turn on the stereo, and open the blinds. Next it's open the dining room window, turn off the air conditioner or heater (depending on season), open the kitchen windows, then open the window on the back porch.

Unknown to me at the time, it was while opening that back porch window that our next fiasco began to reveal itself. In the corner to the left of that back porch window sits our freezer and on the floor to the right of the freezer is our cat litterbox. A small wooden bench covered with a blanket sits just in front of the window and serves as a fresh air lounge chair for our cats. But now, I must digress.

In April of 2002, a very sick and very pregnant street cat showed up in our garage. Unable to get near her at first, Pat made up a bed for her in the garage and started putting food and water out for her to eat. After a few days we were able to coax her into the house where we eventually got her into a carrier and hauled her down to our vet. $275 later, Wheezie had an abortion (8 fetuses), was neutered, vaccinated, shot full of antibiotics, and sent home with eye drops. The vet told us she was at least eight years old. We nursed her back to health and after ten days recovery in the house, allowed her to go back outside.

Wheezie, of course, decided this was a pretty good place to call home and she has ever since. She knows that breakfast is served at 6:30 a.m., dinner at 5:00 p.m., and will appear atop the air conditioning unit just outside the kitchen sink window if meals are late. She spends the majority of her outdoor time lounging in the backyard garden, will occasionally wander off to the neighborhood for a few hours at a time, but is always back in time for meals.

Unfortunately, while in the house, Wheezie rarely likes to use the litterbox. On more than one occasion she has wandered into the living room while I'm watching TV and squatted on the carpet right in front of me. I yell and she runs like hell to the back door to be let out. When I catch her squatting I can always let her out before a drop hits the floor. Unfortunately, we don't always catch her in the act and have discovered drowned newspapers left in strategic locations for the ferrets, soaked blankets left out on the floor for the ferrets, and piddled grocery sacks left on the floor as playtoys for the ferrets.

Needless to say, we now closely monitor Wheezie's presence inside the house. On Saturday night, Wheezie decided she wanted to sleep in the house and curled up on the blanket-covered bench in front of the back porch window. Since it's next to the litterbox which she makes a point of using when she wants to stay inside, we left her alone and went to bed.

Which brings me back to Sunday morning. Pat had fed the cats before I got up and Wheezie and Sammie had already been let outside by the time I got to the back porch to open the window. As I stepped out onto the porch I noticed a nice liquid puddle directly in front of the litterbox. Damn it, Wheezie! Why the hell did she have to go in front of the litterbox instead of in it? The back porch floor is uncovered concrete, so I decided to clean it up later. Yes... I know you women out there are wincing right now, but it's a guy thing: it ain't goin' nowhere, it ain't in the way, and it isn't bothering anything so it can wait 'til later. Besides, I hadn't had my first cup of coffee yet.

I returned to my office, poured my first cup of coffee, and started in on my computer reading and answering email. From there I went on to read the online editions of various newspapers around the country. Pat worked on props in his bedroom for a show that opens in less than a week. We both frittered away the day and by early evening decided to watch a DVD movie that our neighbors across the street had lent us.

Before starting the movie, I headed out to the kitchen, nuked some hotdogs, and wrapped them in the last four slices of bread on the counter. Knowing Pat often times fixes himself some toast in the mornings before he leaves for work, I trundled out to the porch to get another loaf of bread from the freezer so it would be thawed by morning. Once again I see "Wheezie's puddle" in front of the litterbox, which seven hours later is still there. Damn cat! I'll get it later! I open the freezer door and half its contents flop out onto the floor.

"Damn it Pat! You didn't make sure the door was tightly shut again," I thought to myself. And then I look closer. No frost in a notoriously frosty freezer. All contents thoroughly thawed. All shelves frost and ice free, dry and definitely not cold to the touch. No sound from the compressor. I unplug and re-plug the freezer; still no sound. Circuit breaker? Pat!! Come here! We test the outlet with another appliance and it works just fine. Plug the freezer back in and nothing; it's dead.

Pat last remembers getting something from the freezer the previous Monday, six nights ago. I don't remember getting anything out of it for even longer. Obviously it has been dead for several days. Good news for Wheezie, though. We now know the puddle wasn't from her. The freezer's interior was filled to the max with groceries we had purchased just two weeks ago and we estimate the value of its contents at $700. I ask Pat the freezer's age and he tells me at least fourteen years. How much do new ones cost? $1,000? Neither of us know, but I now know what's on my agenda for Monday morning. We shut the freezer door and return to the living room to watch the movie.

August 18, 2003
Monday morning, after only two and half hours sleep, I'm out of bed and dressed by 7:10 and start my weekday routine: the coffee maker, grapes for Allie and Tasha, Karo syrup and warmed baby food for Vincent who's having an insulin attack, stereo on, blinds and windows open, read & answer email. It's still not 8:00 a.m. and the appliance stores don't open until ten o'clock.

I grab a tape measure and write down the dead freezer's inside and outside dimensions. Back to my office, I calculate its size at 10.9 cubic feet. I fritter away the morning, and finally pull out of the driveway at 10:30 to head for Western Appliance, six miles away in San Leandro where we bought our newest washer & dryer a year and a half ago. Inside the large pockets of my cargo shorts are a small legal pad on which is written the dimensions of the dead freezer, a calculator, and my reading glasses. I am prepared! My plan of attack is to tell the salesman that I plan to comparison shop between his store and Lowes further down the freeway in Union City and regardless of who wins the bidding war, I must have the freezer delivered today.

I walk into Western Appliance and the salesman directs me to an aisle containing twenty or so freezers, of all makes, models and sizes. I narrow the choice down to two, both 17 cubic feet (nearly double the old freezer!). The Frigidaire has four permanently mounted standard grate shelves and a right side reversible door. The Whirlpool has four glass shelves and ten slides on which to position them for spacing. Both are on sale for $389. The Whirlpool's door cannot be reversed and the unit is not available in a right-door model... but that's okay because we need a left door anyway to accommodate the size of the cat litterbox which forces the freezer into a corner.

I call the salesman over and reveal my game plan. "Sorry," says he, "but our delivery man picks up only on Wednesdays and delivers only on Thursdays." I have more money tied up in thawing groceries at home than the price of his freezer and I'm not sure if they're salvageable today, much less in three days from now. And I already know that if they deliver it, they'll also take away the old one. Bring it home myself and I'm stuck with the old one for six months or more before the city has its once or twice a year "anything goes" pickup.

The $700 in thawing meat at home outweighs my concerns for what to do with the old freezer. "Okay. I like this Whirlpool and I'll figure out how to get it home today on my own." "Sorry," he tells me, "but we're out of stock on those. We've got more coming in next week." Shit! Can I have this floor model? No. Why not? I'll ask the manager but I know he'll say no.

The salesman returns in five minutes with, "You're in luck. The manager says it's yours. Let's go write it up."

"Not so fast. I told you I was going from here down to Lowes to comparison shop. Besides, I already know that if Lowes can't deliver today, I can rent a truck from them for twenty bucks to get it home myself. I get the tape measure and little legal pad out of my pocket and take down the measurements. In any event, the salesman was not motivated to lower the price or come up with a way to deliver the freezer today, so I walked out the door and drove the eleven miles down the freeway to Union City.

As I walk in the door of the giant home store, a Lowes employee in a wheelchair directs me to the appliance department where I quickly spot at least a hundred different refrigerators but no freezers. I wait nearly ten minutes for the department manager to get off his cell phone and he directs me to the seven upright freezers in a back corner of the department... all Frigidaires. "This is all you have," I ask? "We can order you anything you want out of our catalog, but these are the only ones we have on display." And they were nearly a hundred bucks more than the same models at Western Appliance which was located much closer to our house.

As I walk out the front door of Lowes, I spot Best Buy directly across the parking lot and quickly decide I've had enough shopping for one day. I'll never understand why women like shopping so much. Shopping nearly always wears me out and leaves me in a bad mood. I really don't care if I save money or spend too much. Between the traffic, the parking, the invisible store clerks, and the interminable waits at the cash registers, I just want to get it over with and on with my life.

Back up the freeway to Western Appliance. I spot the salesman and simply tell him, "You win! I'll take that floor model now" "You don't have to," he says, "I found one in stock while you were gone." "Is it a left-door? I have to have a left door." "Let's go check," he says.

It's in the cardboard crate and the ID code clearly indicates it has a left-side mounted door. I hand the guy my credit card as I bring out the tape measure and notepad to write down the crate dimensions. My neighbor, John Montgomery, four doors down the street has a large Chevy pickup, works in the evenings, and helped me bring home a new cookout grill for our patio several months back. I'll offer him forty bucks for the use of his truck and helping me offload the freezer into the house. If I hurry home now, John and I can have the freezer running on the back porch by four o'clock. I make a quick stop at Walmart, then head for the house.

During the ten minute drive home I remember that my neighbor Herb, across the street, had to work this past Saturday and consequently is off today. Herb and partner Rona have a Chevy van and a Suburu SUV. She always drives the Suburu to work at her teaching job in Hayward. Herb & Rona trade favors with us frequently and I'm sure Herb would be willing to go with me in his Chevy van to retrieve the freezer at no charge.

I arrive home and discover Herb's Chevy van gone and Rona's Suburu sitting in their driveway. Rona teaches year-round. Why would she be home? As I get out of my car, I see Herb walking out onto his front porch. We meet on the sidewalk in front of his house. "Where's your van," I ask? "Long story," he replies. "I left the Suburu parked on the street last night for a couple of hours and someone hit it. Took it to a repair shop this morning and they want $2,400 to fix it."

I glance down the street and notice John's Chevy pickup in his driveway. I go back to our house to drop off the packages from Walmart and within two minutes I'm back out the door to walk down to John's. His pickup's gone! I knock on their door anyway and wife Valerie tells me John's taking their son to work and should be back shortly. I ask her to have him call me when he gets back, then I return home.

I spend the next half hour schlepping the contents of the back porch out to the garage and sweeping up the floor. After clearing a path from the driveway to the back porch steps, all is ready for a freezer exchange pending John's phone call. An hour of watching Headline News and drinking a Dr. Pepper later, John calls to say, "Sorry, but I have to be to work early today and there's not enough time left to do this."

Plan C goes into effect: wait for Pat to get home around 4:30 - 5 o'clock and bring the freezer home in our own Chrysler van. Now three o'clock, the whole day has been wasted shopping and our meat is still thawing out on the back porch. God, I hate shopping!

Five o'clock comes and goes. Five-thirty. Six o'clock. Western Appliance closes at eight o'clock and push is about to come to shove. At six-thirty and still no sign of Pat, I call his cell phone. "I'm just leaving the theatre in Lafayette," he tells me. I tell him the situation and instantly he tells me there's no way a freezer would fit in the van. "I took the measurements before I left the store and I can check them against the back opening of the van when you get here to be sure." I figure we may have to drive the van back home with its back door open and a freezer sticking slightly out, but it's a short distance and we know the back streets away from traffic.

"I don't care what your measurements are," Pat tells me, "no freezer in the world can possibly stand up in the van!"

"Why the hell would we stand it up? We lay it down in the van and it'll ride just fine."

"You can't lay an upright freezer on its side; it ruins the freon."

Oh shit! I hadn't thought about that. "Just get home; I'll call the store and see what they say."

"No," whoever answered the phone at Western Appliance said, "you can't lay them down. If you did that, the freezer would have to be left standing in an upright position for twice the amount of time it was laying down before you could safely plug it in."

For a three day train ride from a plant in Michigan, the freezer would have to spend a week in an upright position before all its freon flowed back down to the compressor. But from the San Leandro store to our driveway, including unloading it from the van and uprighting it again at most could only take a half an hour and it would take Pat & I at least an hour after that to unload and remove the old freezer and mop up the floor under it. Problem solved!

When Pat arrived we measured the van's opening and determined the freezer would fit just fine with lots of room to spare. We removed four of its six seats and headed down to Western Appliance. Before the workers tilted the freezer over into the van, I wrote the time down on all four sides of the cardboard crate: 7 o'clock. By 7:20 the new freezer was standing upright in our driveway.

We laid a tarp out on the laundry room floor and I started handing Pat the contents of the dead freezer. Though not frozen, the packages were all cold and ice still clung to most of them. The gallon pail of ice cream was toast, but everything else seemed to be okay. It was 8:30 by the time we finished mopping up the back porch concrete floor and got the new freezer uncrated. With Pat on the porch at the top of the steps and me at the bottom on the patio, we tipped the freezer over and lifted.

On the first step backward, Pat's hands with nothing to grab onto save for the smooth surface, slipped off and the new freezer got its first dent on the concrete steps. On attempt number two we actually got up two steps before the cord guard protruding one inch out from the rest of the freezer banged into the edge of the open porch door.

Back the freezer down the steps and set it upright until I can remove the porch door from its hinges. Attempt number three and Voila! Freezer on porch. Freezer upright. Slide freezer back to corner. Oh shit!!

Pat is officially diagnosed with dyslexia. But it was me who got dyslexic while picking out the new freezer. We need a right-side mounted door, not a left! With a left, the side of the freezer has to be far enough away from the laundry room wall to allow the door to open. And the width of the porch is so narrow that the four inches needed would prevent the litterbox from being placed on the floor between the freezer and the patio wall. The litterbox is so big that there really is no other convenient place to put it and we both know it. I'm waiting for Pat to explode at me for being so stupid.

"Don't worry about the litterbox. Just move the freezer over as needed," he said. I'm not about to argue even though I know there's no way the litterbox can go back to its usual location. We load all the food from the laundry room floor into the new freezer and at nine o'clock we plug the sucker in.

Pat disappears to the garage and returns ten minutes later with a new litterpan for the cats. The cat litter containers stack nicely in the one foot space left between the new freezer and the outer wall and the newly designated smaller litterbox sits comfortably on the floor far enough away from the freezer for its door to open while still leaving room for the cats' "lounge bench" to sit in front of the open window.

Said Pat, "The old litterbox smelled like 'other' cat and that may be why Wheezie didn't like using it." Wheezie has slept in the house for the past two nights... accident free. And all that meat is back to being nice and solid.