The Cambrian

Kathe Tanner: Off & on frustration

It’s one of the most frustrating phrases in the English language: Intermittent short. My life is full of them. We have a microwave-in-a-drawer that heats things up—most of the time. The TV’s remote control fires up the surround-sound system—but only if it feels like it.

Sometimes our mailbox key works. Occasionally I can get the fancy-schmantzy, double-lever front-door lock to let me in the house. The minivan’s key-fob opener actually opens the door about 75 percent of the time, as long as we’re standing within 2 feet of the door. (Yes, Mom, we’ve replaced the batteries.)

And, for a while, the van’s lights would blink on and off. Occasionally. Very fast. When that computer-chip glitch also started randomly locking and unlocking the van doors, even when I was driving, we got it fixed. The repair cost about $600.

No wonder my Advil only relieves my headache some of the time.

And then there’s the intermittent short in our side-by-side refrigerator. It’s only about four years old, as are all the appliances that came with the house. Each is a pricey, if odd, little number that hadn’t ever been used regularly before we moved in a year ago, because the previous owner apparently never really lived here.

So, we shouldn’t have to worry about any of them for a loooong time, right? Well—no. Please see the above notation about the built-in microwave.

Now, all of a sudden, everything on the refrigerator’s top two shelves was extremely hot. Why? Finally, I figured out that the four 40-watt appliance bulbs circling the fridge’s ceiling wouldn’t go off. Why? The door switch that turns them off—didn’t.

Husband Richard removed the blazing-hot bulbs and I plunged a cooking thermometer into some of the hot stuff. Yikes! Then I took the temperature of items on the lower shelves. At about 60 degrees, still way above the danger zone.

Do you have any idea how much food two former caterers and a chef can jam into a home-size refrigerator? Does the appliance’s nickname “Landslide Liz” give you a clue?

We tossed package after carton after jar of food into the garbage can. As we did, I had to stop mentally totaling up

the tab for things we were consigning to the dump. It was too depressing.

When I awoke in the wee hours of the next morning, I cautiously checked and saw the fridge’s temperature was back down into the 40-degree range. Not perfect yet, but better.

Because it was still dark outside and in, I also saw some other dim lights on in the refrigerator, way in the back and down low. The switch wasn’t turning them off, either, but they seemed low-wattage

enough to not affect the refrigerator’s interior temperature, at least not by much.

About 9 a.m., I called the repairman, whose earliest available appointment was on Monday, five days away.

When the appointment clerk asked for the refrigerator’s serial number, I opened the fridge, leaned in and looked about (why are those little metal plaques always in the most implausible spots?). As I did, I inadvertently pressed against the faulty switch.

And the dim lights went out.

I pressed again, and they went out again. I put in a 40-watt bulb, pressed the switch, and the big-boy bulb went out, too.

The switch hasn’t faltered since. We’ve left the big bulbs out. After all, how much light do you really need in an icebox, anyway?

Turns out the service call wasn’t an expensive exercise in uselessness, because while the repairman was here, he also fixed an intermittent dryer-fan problem and checked the quirky dishwasher-in-a-drawer.

He’s been here so often lately, we’ll probably start setting a place for him at the dining table.

We didn’t yet replace the $500 electronic circuitry that he said is the only certain way to prevent a repeat of the fridge’s intermittent klieg-light effect.

Maybe he’ll do that the next time we call him. After all, he and we are convinced the wicked little leprechauns in our other appliances, electronics and vehicles will continue to find random ways to torture us all—off and on, on and off.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at ktanner@thetribunenews. co m. Read more “Slices” at