The little boy in me has always liked building and fixing things. I have done limited repair jobs in the past, but I have been hampered by a lack of knowledge, tools, and time.
On occasion, my interest level would overcome these restrictions, and over the years, I have tackled a few projects. I crafted a desk, hand-built many computers, attempted basic home decorating, and completed some other small projects.
When I moved into my house 30 years ago, I subscribed to a home repair “book of the month” club. Every 30 days, I would receive a glossy covered book highlighting a particular topic, like heating and air conditioning repair. When a fix-it task came up, I would dig into that collection, but I often found that I didn’t have the right tools or that the instructions were too generic to help a novice.
Let’s face it, when you are working 60-70 hours a week, it becomes easier to call someone to do your repair work. Also, I have been fortunate to know my friend, Tom. Tom has both the tools and the talent. He has always been happy to help me, and I rely on him for those jobs that are well beyond my pay grade. However, I don’t want to take advantage of Tom’s goodwill. He is busy enough without my demands.
When you have lived in a house for 30 years, appliances break. In fact, they seem to bust more frequently as their technology advances. I still have the basic 1984 electric stove and fridge that came with my home; they now live in my basement. However, the same cannot be said of their much more expensive replacements. Currently, I’m on my third new range, fridge, and dishwasher. These devices promised miracle features, but they were less forthcoming when it came to reliability.
Replacement stove #2 was a technological marvel with a convection oven, bread proofing drawer, induction stovetop, and enough colored LEDs that it could have been mistaken for a Christmas tree. Over the 10 years I had it, the device was repaired at least 3 times. Each service call was more expensive than the last. The Fourth and final repair attempt happened a few years back. The oven had gone nuclear; I would set it for 350F and come back to a meal that had been reduced to charcoal briquettes. The repair guy’s consultation was $150. “I can stay and monitor your temperature rise, but that is going to cost you a lot more,” He said. The man kindly told me how to reprogram the oven’s micro-computer but informed me that if my efforts failed, it would make more sense to buy a new stove, as it was unlikely that they still made the logic boards for my model. I re-calibrated the oven’s thermostat, and I was able to get a few more months of life from the stove, but soon it was back to its old tricks and failed right before Thanksgiving 2018.
Thanksgiving is a big holiday as we have guests arriving from multiple states. Many stay for several days, and they eat all of their meals at our house. The logistics of making Thanksgiving dinner for 20 plus numerous breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are always daunting but felt impossible without a working oven. That year we pulled it off with a microwave, toaster oven, and our old basement range. Basement cooking is not a sustainable option, and we bought another stove the following Monday. Kitchen appliances may be more energy efficient than they were in the past, but that doesn’t offset their additional repair and replacement costs. I can’t say that my life has changed for the better now that I can tap in 350F on a stove’s keypad instead of turning a simple dial.
Julie shouted from the kitchen, “Mike, I don’t think that the dishwasher is working.” “Oh,” I replied. “What makes you think that,” I said. “The dishes don’t look washed,” was her rational reply. “I think you need to fix it.”
Editor’s note: In today’s world of equality, why is it assumed that males are magically endowed with appliance repair knowledge?
I came into the kitchen for a visual inspection. “Yep, they still look dirty,” was my sage response. At this point, I would normally say that we needed to call a repair service. However, the dishwasher is around 10 years old, and I knew that a repair person would charge $150 just to come out. Any repair would likely be several hundred dollars more. In this COVID era, did I really want a stranger in my house, and did I want to spend $300 to have an old machine fixed? It was time to put on a metaphorical hard hat, assume my manly responsibilities, and attempt to fix the appliance myself.
I went to the fount of all knowledge, and I typed into YouTube’s search engine. “Whirlpool dishwasher not cleaning dishes.”. Up popped several videos with titles containing words like “Easy fix” and “Simple repair.” A chill went up my spine. I have gone down “Easy” and “Simple” paths in the past, and I have learned that these words are really code for “Difficult” and “Demoralizing.”
One Christmas, when my girls were small, we purchased an entire play kitchen whose box loudly proclaimed, “Easy assembly, only requires a common screwdriver.” The kitchen had a pretend oven, stove, microwave, and sink. There was a little counter and several cabinets for pretend food and plastic pots. I knew my kids would be thrilled on Christmas morning.
It was Christmas Eve, and both Julie and I were involved with various tasks designed to ease Santa’s burden. By the time I got to the kitchen toy, it was well past 10 PM. I was tired and irritable.
The panels that made up the “kitchen” were made of a molded plastic. The hollow kind that has a waxy candle smell. I scanned the incomprehensible instructions and started to snap Tab A into Slot B. The process was not smooth. Some problems were due to my fatigue and unwillingness to interpret Chinese English into English. I would accomplish one portion of the assembly to discover that I needed to do something else first. Also, the kitchen had at least 100 stickers that had to be precisely placed. Despite all effort, I found that I was putting some stickers in the wrong spots and placing them askew in others. However, this was the least of my problems. The various panels that made up the kitchen’s structure simply would not snap together. In fact, two were almost ¼ inch off. I pushed, swore, and pushed some more. I tried banging the large panels with a hardcover dictionary and even incorporated Julie’s muscle help. It was now well past midnight, and I was in a panic. This was their major gift, and it lay in ruin on our family room floor. I felt wholly inadequate as a father. I couldn’t put together a simple toy that proclaimed that it was easy to assemble. I was a failure.
I was physically agitated, my heart was pounding, and I was sweating. I needed to calm myself. I leaned back in my Lazyboy and popped up its footrest. I closed my eyes and meditated to calm my mind. My breathing started to slow, and my palpitations quieted. “Breath in through the nose, count to 5, exhale slowly from the mouth,” I repeated to myself. I took myself to a quiet place and opened my mind up to new possibilities. Immediately, an answer came to me, but it had to be the wrong answer. “Go into the garage and get your sledgehammer.” “What!” I thought. “Am I supposed to wack this piece of… with a sledgehammer? I’m not that angry!”
I couldn’t run to the store and buy a new present, it was the middle of the night. “What good is all of this meditation if all I can come up with is a ridiculous solution. Universe, give me another answer!” “Get the sledgehammer” was my reply. “You win, but I’m blaming you when my kids are crying tomorrow morning!” I informed the little thought in my head.
I had Julie hold the two offending panels, and I made sure that she was as far as possible from my intended point of impact. I tried a few light taps, nothing happened. I focused again on the target zone. I drew out my arm, and with both energy and intent, I swung the hammer. I momentarily closed my eyes… I didn’t want to see the toy shattered and destroyed. CRACK! And click, the two errant panels mated. The hammer worked! I completed the rest of the job feeling a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration.
My kids played with that “kitchen” for many years, and they have served me countless plastic donuts and pretend cups of coffee that were heated to perfection on decal burners. The kitchen was one of their favorite toys of all time. However, the build experience left an indelible stain on the words “Easy” and “Simple.”
You can now understand why I shuttered when I saw those mocking words on the YouTube videos. But what choice did I have? I had to submit myself; like Princess Leia’s plea was to Obi-Wan, YouTube was my only hope.
The first video told me what to do but didn’t show me how to do it. “Remove the plastic retaining clips,” it commanded. I wondered, “But how?” The second video was more explicit but just made me more confused. “Use your number 20 star driver to release the filter assembly.” To me, screwdrivers only come in two forms, flathead and Phillips. I went digging through my little toolbox and came up with some bits that I thought would fit. Amazingly, I had bought a generic set that had the required star driver. “Victory is mine!” I erroneously thought.
With my MacBook propped up on the kitchen table, I approached the dishwasher and faced another realization. All of the videos that I watched had a freestanding dishwasher, and some even had the door removed. My dishwasher was stuck in the crook of our L shaped counter, which allowed access only from the right side. Just placing my screwdriver required the flexibility of a 14-year-old Olympic-level gymnast. I conjured up ideas of me wearing a Speedo as I attacked the dishwasher’s screws. I quickly and permanently put those thoughts out of my mind. I stretched, made a lot of manly grunting sounds, and stretched some more. I was able to reach the two screws that attach the dishwasher’s pump to the upper sprayer with effort.
Rats, they were not “star tips”; they appeared to be rectangular. I dug into my bit collection and found another bit, and with more grunting (and a little colored language), I removed them. I twisted the column ¼ turn and pulled it out of the dishwasher. This revealed the 4 star screws that held the filter assembly in place. I removed those screws and pried the unit from the dishwasher. With a little more banging and swearing, I was able to dislodge the actual filter from the unit for a close inspection. There was a little grease on the filter, but it didn’t look too bad. I washed it off with dishwashing detergent and started the reassembly process. This time I employed the help of my son William to re-screw the upper sprayer water supply tube. His youth gave him a flexibility advantage.
I found some dirty dishes-an an easy task in our house and loaded them into my newly fixed machine. I dropped in a little packet of detergent, pressed “Normal Cycle,” and hit start. The dishwasher sprang into action, and I could hear the sound of water churning in its chamber. I checked the results an hour later with hopeful anticipation and discovered… That the cups were as dirty as they were when I placed them inside. “Crap and double crap!” I muttered to myself. After a little investigation, I discovered that water was not getting up the mid and top-level sprayers. It was time to revisit YouTube.
Several videos later, I determined that the likely problem was a defective “food chopper,” a part of the dishwasher that chops larger bits of food into ones that can be flushed down the drain. This repair would require going to a level deeper than my “filter clean.”. By now, I was committed and convinced myself that I could tackle this new level of complexity. I logged into Amazon and ordered the chopper assembly for a reasonable $11. I also purchased a real set of screwdrivers for another $35. “The right tool for the right job,” I said to myself. Secretly, I was hoping that the shipment would be delayed.
Two days later, the part and the new screwdrivers arrived. My Kathryn informed me that Julie told her to tell me that the dishwasher needed to be fixed. In a world of email, texting, and FaceTime, we can still practice indirect communication at our home. “Well, then you are going to help me,” I informed Kathryn. “Sure,” was her reply.
The food chopper repair starts with the removal of the same parts as in the filter cleaning job. I approached this portion of the project with the hubris that came from my earlier disassembly successes. The next stage was more challenging but still within my skill level. I removed the plastic housing around the food chopper and pulled out the part. Holy cow, this had to be the problem. The chopper blade was frozen, and there was at least a quarter-inch of super disgusting greasy slime plugging the blade’s mesh plate. No water could get past that mess.
I made the repair, this time utilizing Kathryn to screw in the upper rack feed tube. In went dirty dishes; I programmed in a wash cycle and pressed the start button. After about 30 seconds, I heard the machine fill with water-a hopeful sound. Then it happened… the sound. A sound similar to that of a 747 taking off from 10 feet away. I looked at Kathryn, and Kathryn looked at me. We both raised our eyebrows. “Maybe the chopper needs to work its way in,” I said hopefully. But the sound didn’t go away; in fact, it seemed to get louder. At one point, I thought that the dishwasher was going to take off. “Crap!” I thought. I hit the cancel button to drain the machine.
I pushed down the door, removed the dirty dishes and the racks, disassembled the washers innards, and examined my installation. Honestly, it looked just like it should-at least it looked like the YouTube example. I pondered my options and called on my past experience. I reached up to the counter and located my little tool kit. I felt around until I found it. Yes, this is what I needed… a hammer. I took aim and gave the chopper assembly a good wack. I heard a “click.” Having disassembled and reassembled the unit 6 times, the reassembly job went quickly. I put my dirty dishes back in the machine, pressed buttons, and hoped for the best.
I heard the water enter, then a relay clicked. I held my breath in anticipation. Joy of joys, the 747 had left the runway, and I was greeted with the sweet, sweet sound of my dishwasher humming. I patted myself on the back for my mechanical expertise and felt very manly indeed. It was fixed!
They say that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. How true, and in this case, I “nailed” the repair with a hammer. From plastic play kitchens to large kitchen appliances, never doubt the power of a blunt object.
Peace to you, and Merry Christmas!