Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Shoppers
Ours is a mixed marriage. Because of this, we are at least occasionally at one another's throats, our cultural values deeply opposed. My husband is a Luddite. I knew this when I married him, of course. I also knew that I was what technology purveyors, licking their financial lips, call 'an early adopter.'
by Candida Pugh
I have longed to be rich so that everything I own could be the latest thing to come off the top of the line.
Once I bought a tiny voice-activated tape recorder just because it was so cute and had so many features. I love features, even when I have no use for them. Periodically I take that little gadget out of the drawer and gaze at it wistfully, wishing I could find some use for it.
Once I bought a vacuum cleaner so exclusive, it wasn't available in stores. I owned two dogs and it promised to gorge with pleasure on pet fur. Luxury hotels, the ads boasted, clamored to buy it. None of those hotels allowed pets, of course, but I focused on the good news.
Within a month, the darling headlight (admittedly useless since I rarely vacuum in the dark) died. Then the suction began to ebb. A year after I bought it (twenty-eight days beyond the warranty), it coughed and hacked and bumped across acres of dust, searching for the nearest exit.
I wrote to the company, expecting redress. Surely they would be appalled to learn that one of their fine machines had performed poorly. Yet, in this age of 'Your call is important to us,' the company remained mute. Clearly, I needed a more expensive vacuum.
When I set my cap for one designed to inhale dog hair, for the price of a Caribbean vacation for two, my husband groused, but I was determined to win the pet pelt wars.
The cleaner weighed almost as much as I
did. I liked that. My previous vacuum had advertised
itself as feather-light. This one was durable,
industrial strength, constructed to last a lifetime.
But how to assemble it? I couldn't find the parts diagram that tells you to be sure you have the doohickey and the thingamabob, helpful for when the instructions direct you to insert the thingamabob into the doohickey. There wasn't even a troubleshooting page.
Of course, I reasoned, I wouldn't need one. This cleaner would be trouble-free. Why else had I paid so much for it?
Two hours later, it was time to plug it in. The machine leapt into action, rolling over lint and dog hair with aplomb, leaving all in its wake. In addition, it made a horrible racket, as if it had swallowed a box of tacks and was trying to clear its throat. I verified that nothing had been removed from the carpet by checking the still pristine transparent holding tank, but I noted that the roller was tightly bound up with hair. I tried removing the roller. If lugging the cleaner upstairs demanded the strength of Helen Reddy at full throttle ('I am woman, hear me roar'), removing the roller (with permanent belt attached) resembled a wrestling match between me and Hulk Hogan.
But I don't give up and I don't give in.
Eventually, millimeter-by-millimeter, I pried the roller free, cut off acres of twisted hair, and, after another ten rounds with Hulk, managed to jam the roller back into place. Or was it in place? It was impossible to tell since it fit any way I turned it. Drenched in sweat and weeks of accumulated carpet sediment, I got the plate screwed on. Once again, I cringed as more ball-bearings cascaded through the interior. I reached for the telephone.
Forty-five minutes later, the company rep
told me censoriously, 'You can't use this vacuum on an
'The rug's too flat. But you can try the floor setting.'
'It makes a horrible noise.' I demonstrated, taking a certain pleasure in forcing her ear to the machine.
She seemed unruffled. 'I see. Switch to the rug setting.'
'But then it doesn't pick anything up.'
'Well, like I said. You can't use it on area rugs.'
'Five hundred bucks and I can't vacuum an area rug?'
'Try shaking the rug out.'
'It's nine by twelve!'
'That is a problem.'
After a second interminable wait, a supervisor said cheerfully, 'Let's see what the problem is.'
Oh good. We'd gotten to the problem.
She instructed me to turn the vacuum cleaner over and check where the plate abutted the cover.
'You shouldn't be able to get a pencil
eraser into the crack.'
'I could probably park my car in there.'
'There's your problem.'
'Okay. But how come it fits together wrong?'
'I only know it won't give you any suction unless it's assembled correctly.'
I knelt on the floor and set to work on the plate for another hour. Eventually it fit tight and the vacuum began to vacuum'much as other vacuums before it had done. Now, whenever I have to remove the roller, I face the same exhausting trial-and-error wrestling bouts. And the noise of careening metallic marbles erupts whenever the cleaner feels insulted by the low nap of my area rugs.
My husband longs for the good old days when appliances had dials. So when I told him I wanted to replace our thermostat with a programmable one, he demurred. 'But,' I pointed out, 'we can wake up warm. And we won't have to get out of bed because we forgot to turn off the thermostat at night.'
He pointed out that the thermostat was right outside our bedroom door. And it worked fine.
I purchased the programmable model the next day.
The manual seemed clear on only one point: the thermostat's ability to estimate when the furnace needed to get busy to achieve your desired temperature in time. It had, we were warned, a learning curve. That first night, our furnace noisily blasted on at two, our thermostat having mistakenly located itself somewhere in the Antarctic. The next night the furnace thundered into our dreams at 1:30.
Soon it became obvious that we had to set the thermostat to fifty-five degrees and press the override button for heat. My Luddite twinkled merrily at this hoped-for regression into manual labor.
So, naturally, when we installed our new, top-of-the-line furnace, I opted for the super thermostat. I also signed on the dotted line for a filter that would need to be changed only once a year. Unfortunately, no one explained this to our feature-rich thermostat.
After three months, it began talking to us, sometimes in the midst of dinner parties, insisting it was 'Time to replace your filter!' After months of being ignored, it huffily began claiming the temperature in our house was sixty degrees when, in fact, we were in shirtsleeves, opening windows. It was already time, apparently, to replace our thermostat.
You'd think I'd learn.
But I began coveting a coffeemaker that ground beans and brewed coffee at a pre-set time. I shrugged off the horse-choking price tag. My husband threw up his hands. The new toy functioned correctly twice, after which it stopped moving on from the grind to the coffee-making phase. It made coffee only when you pushed the button a second time.
The service rep said they'd send me a new machine immediately. Hanging up with a smile, I told my husband, 'You see, you do get what you pay for.'
When the replacement arrived, the grinder ground, the arm swung over with a satisfying kerplunk, and coffee brewed. The next morning, my husband, with a hint of satisfaction, said, 'There's no coffee.' I peered in. Only beans and cold water. Yet everything seemed in order.
I speculated: 'I pressed the button after
I cleaned the machine yesterday morning.'
'So it probably doesn't hold the program after twelve hours. I'll have to press the button at night.'
'If you remember.'
'If I don't, we can press it first thing in the morning. It doesn't take long.'
'Then we can have manual coffee,' he grinned. 'Like the old days.'
The next morning, we came down to ground beans but no coffee. The cap on the cone had obstructed the shift mechanism. This cap's dodgy because'drum roll'it fits in an infinite number of positions, yet, it needs to be precisely placed.
A few mornings later we came downstairs to find coffee all over the counter and floor. I could see no obvious problem. Perhaps I'd screwed the lid on the carafe too tightly, I reasoned. If so, why didn't the lid have some failsafe mechanism for keeping this from happening? And why didn't the instruction booklet warn this could be a problem?
And why was I asking those questions, anyway? My learning curve seemed steeper than my old thermostat's.
The truth is, we never figured out why coffee spilled all over. But yesterday I noticed in a very exclusive magazine a machine that makes wonderful coffee and that I'm sure never malfunctions.
It's just a bit pricey . . . .
About the Author:
Candida Pugh is a shopper, recently forcibly transplanted by her husband from the San Francisco Bay Area to Toronto, where, she reports, the shopping's not nearly as good. (Which might have something to do with her husband's desire to re-locate.)
A former copywriter for a marketing company in Silicon Valley, Candida dreams of making millions through her writing and thus being able to support the lifestyle to which she aspires. She's confident that the next piece she writes, like the next luxury object she buys, will radically change her life!