After 20 or more years of faithful service, our overstuffed dryer gave a sad little grunt and wheezed to a stop, leaving many too many wet beach towels behind.
The good news: Last month’s endless summer had just begun. Onto the sunny lawn went the towels, shaken and bakin’. A couple of hours later they were dry. Though not soft and fluffy like they are with Bounce, they were ready for the visiting grandtwins and their friends just in time.
The bad news: Last month’s endless summer had just begun, bringing with it the population explosion. All the Ms. and Mr. Fixits who were so readily available when you called in March were now “this voice mailbox is full, please try again later.” But the children were here to stay for a while, and the dryer had to be fixed fast — or we had to buy a new one. Right away, before the rains came. (How was I to know the sun was going to roll around heaven all day for the next three weeks or more — day after 87-degree day of dry-it-on-the-grass weather?)
What to do? The Appliance Giant loomed down the road, but was there really no available repairman?
Buried somewhere in the recesses of my brain was the memory of an imp. Not the Rumpelstiltskinny kind that promises gold and steals your baby, but a Dobby, that magical elf who turns up just when things look bad for Harry Potter and sets everything to rights.
His number had to be somewhere in the house. How long had it been? Ten years at least, so it was no good looking through the cellphone contacts. I found it, finally — our old spiral-bound phone book with too many names of friends no longer living — near the rusty pliers in the junk drawer under “appliance repair genius.”
He answered the call himself. Yes, he said (sounding like he’d been waiting to hear from me all those years and had all the time in the world for a nice long conversation), he could come, though probably not for two weeks or so. “What was the model number again? Right. No, I don’t need your address, I have it here in my book. Everything working okay otherwise?”
The sun shone, the towels and stuff dried, and two weeks later he came. It took him, oh, maybe 20 minutes to find the source of the trouble. The thingy that holds the door and the dryer together wasn’t working, so the dryer couldn’t close properly. He unscrewed the tiny piece, two inches long tops, and held it up to the light. “I wonder if I have this on my truck,” he said. Fat chance, I thought to myself. We bought that dryer in, what, 1995?
Beaming, he returned. “I only had one of them,” he said, as the dryer purred into life.
We passed through the kitchen on the way out. “You’ve got a Jenn-Air, huh,” he said, glancing at the stove. “Not for long,” I told him. “Only one of the four burners works, and it’s never even the same one.” (This had been going on for months; sometimes two worked, sometimes none.) “We’re about to replace it.”
He gave me a quizzical look.
“What?” I said. “Do you fix ovens, too?”
He picked up the front burner, peered underneath the reflector pan, produced some sort of tool, and took the wires apart. “It’s the connection,” he announced with satisfaction. “I thought so. It’ll take time to get the parts. I’ll call you when they come.”
This laid-back gem of a guy, who could have taken his very reasonable pay and walked out the door, saved us several thousand dollars on a new electric oven, not to mention fixing our ancient dryer with an ancient doohickey in the blink of an eye. When he came back to fix the burners and I asked how much, he went quiet for a minute, then “I’ll charge you for the parts,” he said, “but not for the service call. Not for being here twice.”
True story. He accepted a big tip in cash and left smiling. As for me, I experienced a surge of — I don’t know. Call it renewed faith in humanity.
Irene Silverman is The Star’s editor at large.