Thursday, March 08, 2007

"It just doesn't make any sense . . ."

A few years back Da Kid and Herself gave Hubby and me a gas grill. A nice one, too. I'd always been afraid of the damned things figuring they'd explode, or maybe it was just the way Hubby cooked on them. Anyway, Da Kid insisted I learn how to use this one. Insisted!

After a few panic attacks when the sizzling sound became a roar as flames engulfed the food I was cooking, I came to the understanding that there is really nothing to fear so long as I had my trusty, water-filled spray bottle handy. The meat might end up drowned but what the hell. It was already dead when I put it on the grill, right?

I'll never be a champion grill-person but I did get better at it. Trial and error, mostly, although the butcher at a meat shop I like talked me through my first steaks. Looking at the thickness she told me how exactly how long to cook them, by watching the temperature gauge on the grill's closed lid. After it got to X-degrees, after X-time flip the steaks over and close the grill's lid. When the gauge got back to X-degrees, after X-time they would be ready. The steaks turned out GREAT!

I've became rather dependent on that temperature gauge. Like Schroeder and his security blanket, I guess. How much, I didn't realize, until just before our last bout of "global warming."

Cooking for one is a challenge. I'm used to cooking for "three," with Hubby eating enough for two normal people; Da Kid, three.

Now when it's going to be just me eating, often it's just not worth the bother. Leftovers in the refrigerator or I pull a single-serving container of soup or stew or . . . something out of the freezer. Slap a sandwich together. Nuke a "TV dinner."

That morning I began thinking about what I'd eat that night. I don't know why. Maybe it was because when I opened the refrigerator door I saw there were no leftovers — except a small container quarter-filled with gravy — left. Da Kid had taken them to work for his dinner.

I opened the freezer door only to realize I really wasn't in the mood for much of anything. Except . . .

What I really wanted (the little voice in my head first began whispering, then screaming) was a steak. With a baked potato. And sliced tomato. Da Kid doesn't like sliced tomato, flitted through my mind. Then, Wait a minute. He's not eating this. I am!

I pulled a NY Strip out of the freezer, then went out to uncover the grill for the first time since early last summer completely confident of what I would find. And, I was right.

After dragging the cover off I began screaming loudly. I don't do spiders, living or dead. I went to work beating the "livestock" to death (that they were all probably already dead didn't and doesn't matter) with a long-handled broom, and then (grabbing, in my humble opinion, a well-deserved cold beer) fired up the grill to incinerate (cremate?) anything inside under its closed hood.

Which is when I noticed that my faithful companion — the temperature gauge — had croaked.

Additional cleaning ensued. My steak was <polite cough> just a tad too well done. The next day I began the job of replacing the temperature gauge.

I admit, I'm not the most mechanically inclined. Still, some things are so obvious even I can't screw it up. Lifting the grill's lid, I untwirled the wingnut holding the stem of temperature gauge in place, closed the lid and pulled the gauge out. I screwed the wingnut back on the stem so I wouldn't lose it, and took the whole shebang with me.

Neither Wal Mart, Lowe's nor Home Depot had a temperature gauge with a stem that would fit through the small hole in the grill's lid. I even went to the local business that I take the grill's tanks to when they need refilling. In addition to selling propane, they also have — usually in stock — just about everything (including parts) for gas fireplaces or grills, not to mention a good selection of barbeque sauces for the latter.

Nope. They even tried to figure out how to order a replacement temperature gauge for me but finally gave up. I'd have to get it, they said, directly from Sears.

Which — since the grill was covered by a maintenance contract Da Kid and Herself had also purchased for it — is what he'd been telling me to do from the start, but I'd been trying my best to avoid.

"It just doesn't make any sense to call Sears," I told Da Kid, "for something as small as this. All I need is a new gauge and I can install it myself in a minute or so." But with no choice, I had to call them.

The Garden Department, that is, of the closest Sears to me hoping that since that was where Da Kid and Herself bought the grill, and after determining that the same department was still selling them, maybe — just maybe — I could drive over and pick up the temperature gauge.

Nope. They don't sell parts. But since the grill was covered by a maintenance agreement IF I had the manual (which I did) all I had to do, the man said, was call the repair number shown on the contract (which I was holding), give them the part number and at no charge, they'd simply mail it to me.

Getting something repaired that was covered by a Sears Roebuck maintenance contract used to be a cinch. You'd call, and they'd set up and appointment in a day or so with a four-hour window for their repairman to come out. He'd call that day giving you a more exact time, which allowed you — or us, anyway — to leave work for a couple hours to meet him. And then go back.

The repairman would arrive, figure out what needed fixing or replacing, fix it or grab whatever part had to be replaced from his truck and install it, and it was done.

But Sears became more "efficient." Instead of having parts readily available on their trucks, now they had to order it. Then, when they received it, someone would call to schedule a return appointment so they could install it. (Which resulted in us having to take more time off from work.)

Then Sears became more "efficient" still. Instead of the Sears repairman coming back out with the part he'd ordered, now the part was mailed to us. When it arrived, if it arrived, we had to call Sears to let them know and schedule a return visit.

Which might not be until the next waxing moon, on whatever day of the week during it that Sears was going to again be in our area. At which time the repairman would realize it was the wrong part or when whut.ever still didn't work, that something else was wrong. So he'd have to order another part.

The last straw was having an inoperable lawn tractor for six months. You haven't lived until the grass and weeds are waist high and a city inspector comes out weekly to cite you for "maintaining a nuisance," but never does because each and every time he pulls in, there's "The Sears Guy" — the same Sears Guy — working on it.

Finally, the repairman said it just didn't make any sense to keep ordering more parts. The lawn tractor was officially dead, he declared, but since it was under a maintenance contract Sears would, of course, replace it. Which they did, sending the new one to us box by box. When all the boxes arrived, we called Sears and they sent out the "Put-Together Guy" (who is different from "The Sears (Repair) Guy") about a week later. He put it together, and left. Leaving it with two flat tires, and us with instructions to call Sears Repair to get them fixed.

As a result, we began dropping Sears maintenance contracts one by one as they came due for renewal.

I called the repair number shown on the grill's maintenance contract, and entered Telephone Menu Hell.

"Your business IS important to us. Please continue holding while we entertain you with the same music loop again and again until we get around to you. Or you die of old age. Or the line goes dead and you have to start all over again. Whut.ever."

When I FINALLY got a real, actual human, it was one in the WRONG department. She transferred me DIRECTLY to someone else in another department.

"Your business IS important to us. Please continue holding . . ."

Which wasn't the right department, either, so I was transferred to another one.

"Your business IS important to us. Please continue holding . . ."

FINALLY, I was talking to a real person in the RIGHT department. Would they mail me the the temperature gauge? Hell no! Oh, they would if I really insisted but if they did and I installed it myself, I'd void the maintenance contract.

"But, the grill came in a big cardboard box and my son put it together . . ."

Don't matter.

The next time a Sears repairman would be out my way would be a week later. Here's the two days . . . take it or leave it. So, I scheduled the "appointment." Sears would call the night before, she said, to schedule the "appointment": Between 8 a.m. and noon or between 1 and 5 p.m.

And Sears DID call the night before to let me know. The recorded message left on the answering machine said I could expect the repairman to be here the next day, exactly and precisely between 8 ayem and 5 pee-em.

The repairman arrived at 9:30. I handed him the temperature gauge (with the wingnut screwed on to its stem) and told him I needed one of these.

He, of course, didn't have one in his truck. He could, however, order one and have it mailed to me. I'd have it in two business days. When it arrived, he said to call the repair number on the grill's maintenance contract to schedule a time for him to come back out to install it.

Or, I could install it myself, he said, because it just doesn't make any sense for him to come back for something as simple as this.
Two weeks later UPS dropped off the box with the temperature gauge.

It took me longer to cut through the packing tape and open the box than it did to install the temperature gauge inside. Then again, I reminded myself as I twisted the wingnut's final turn, Sears didn't buy out K-Mart.

It was the other way around.